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Lees-Galloway signals broader health & safety targets in draft strategy

Friday 27th April 2018

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Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway plans to expand the focus of what constitutes significant harm on the job in a draft health and safety strategy to lift the well-being of workers and in turn the productivity of the labour force. 


The government is seeking feedback on the draft plan with a view to finalising a health and safety strategy in September or October of this year. The draft strategy has two key planks: designing a system focused on achieving the biggest impact, such as ensuring businesses have proportionate and effective risk management, and supporting small firms, high-risk sectors and the most vulnerable workers; and raising the capability throughout the system, from staff to management. 


The paper outlines four priorities, the first being a broader set of measures and targets that will replace an injury focus with a health focus when the targets expire in 2021. Other priorities include creating a durable and proportionate regulatory framework, which will include a review of the legislation in 2020, putting workers at the centre of the system, and ensuring strong sector leadership with industry, unions and government working together to improve health and safety. 


"New Zealand has made good progress in recent years in reducing the rate of acute harm. However, urgent work still remains," Lees-Galloway said in a statement. "I want to ensure that we are reducing all types of significant harm at work - this includes broadening the focus from acute harm to make sure we're managing wider health risks, including mental health." 


The previous administration softened planned health and safety law reforms in 2015 to ease the burden on small business, having initially supported the early legislation as an opportunity to address New Zealand's rate of death and injury in the workplace, attracting criticism from the Labour Party when it was in opposition.


The draft strategy was developed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and WorkSafe, with stakeholders including BusinessNZ and the Council of Trade Unions. 


The new government has an overarching vision for work-related harm to significantly drop in the coming decade to world class levels, and that workplace safety and health "is fundamental to the strength and productivity of New Zealand's economy" by avoiding the economic cost of deaths, injuries and general poor health. 


A BusinessNZ and Southern Cross Health Society-sponsored survey last year showed an average absence of 4.4 days per employee in 2016 with non-work related illness the main cause, followed by caring for an ill family member or dependent. The survey put the direct cost of employee absence to the broader economy at $1.51 billion


The draft strategy paper said the level of work-related harm has improved from a low base and was still high by international standards, with more than 250 people killed and almost 2,000 seriously injured on the job over the past five years. If that's broadened to work-related ill health, the paper estimates between 600 and 900 people die a year in New Zealand. 


"A key priority highlighted in the strategy is ensuring better outcomes for Maori and other workers at greater risk who are over-represented in injury statistics and high-risk sectors, such as forestry and construction, or more likely to be engaged in temporary, geographically remote or precarious employment," Lees-Galloway said. "Once finalised it will also outline more meaningful measures and targets for monitoring our performance as a country." 


The paper said official data on work-related deaths and serious injuries are currently available, and that future health surveys on exposure to work-related health risks are expected to be available next year. However, the risk of major events with potential to cause significant acute or chronic harm are yet to be confirmed. 


Submissions are open until June 8. 



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