Top lawyer says practical approach needed for effective health and safety

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Having learnt numerous lessons from being the lawyer who represented the NZ-based Pike River mine directors and chief executive following the 2010 tragedy, Stacey Shortall knows better than most the nuances and legislative minefields attached to health and safety issues.

Shortall says the most pressing health and safety issue on the minds of business executives today is how to practically meet the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which becomes law on April 4th.

"I do believe that many Kiwi businesses understand what's required of them under the new Act and they are taking the reform seriously," she says. "However, it's the progression to implementing practical solutions and actions that is weighing most heavily on the shoulders of the NZ business community."

After recently working with Lion's board and senior leadership in Australia and New Zealand, John O'Rourke says for businesses large and small, what's important is that the right people are thinking hard about what might go wrong and what can be done to mitigate that risk, and to keep people safe.

"While most PCBUs (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) are very serious about the Act, there may be some who will have a shock coming," he says. "One of the biggest potential trip-ups is small companies (PCBUs) that don't take their health and safety responsibilities seriously, because other businesses simply won't contract them to do work.

"Small businesses that take the Act seriously and provide assurance will be the ones getting the work, as businesses won't want to take the risk of engaging people who are not demonstrating their commitment to health and safety.

"Small businesses can't present large businesses with a generic safety plan; rather, it needs to be well thought-out and specific to the particular tasks in that unique environment. Proving that any contractors have received the right training and are experienced and equipped to manage risks is a must-have for businesses."

O'Rourke says a focus for businesses should be systems and processes that facilitate and promote sharing information relevant to health and safety issues.

"There are several practical steps businesses can take right now to ensure they are on top of the changes, including getting a health and safety check-up and audit, compliance health checks at board and senior leadership level, and strategy development. The goal should be for health and safety culture, leadership, training, recording, and reporting to be embedded deep within all levels of the business.

"We need to foster a just culture, where employees, officers and directors won't be criticised or intimidated for reporting and asking about health and safety problems or incidents at work. Not knowing, or not asking about these issues will no longer suffice as an excuse for inaction. In fact, it could lead to liability."

An affordable answer for small and medium businesses

Recognising the need for compliance and health and safety training for many smaller kiwi businesses, Safetrac have released an online compliance bundle, full details here.
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