Health and Safety at Work Act – beware the circling sharks

Health and Safety at Work Act – beware the circling sharks

shark warningThe imminent introduction of the Health and Safety Reform Bill in the Parliamentary select committee process will sharpen senior management focus on what this means for the organisations they manage. There has already been a lot of hype generated by politicians and the mainstream media putting the wind up directors and senior managers. Behind the scenes there had been a lot of work done by health and safety professionals assessing the likely impact of the new legislation and the structural and operational changes that will be required to ensure compliance.

Worksafe New Zealand say we are still on track to have the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW) passing into law in April 2015. When there is a major piece of workplace compliance legislation like the HSW act in the pipeline all sorts of sharks enter the tank that is the New Zealand workplace looking for a serious feed. For many health and safety professionals these kind of opportunities don’t come by very often. A major legislative change combined with media whipping up fear among senior governance boards and management who hold the purse strings. Many health and safety practitioners are used to having to beg and borrow budget to run the safety framework in their organisations. Now frightened leaders are coming to them asking ‘what do we need to do’? Faced with a virtual blank cheque, health and safety advisors and consultants will have a wide range of responses. At the lower end they will ignore the hype and look at the key issues contained in the legislation such as person controlling a business or undertaking (PCBU), notifiable incidents and ‘reasonably practicable’ and decide what needs to be amended in their policies and procedures to achieve compliance. At the higher end of the spectrum advisors and consultants will be recommending a bells and whistle health and safety on steroids response that will have a big price tag. Both ends of the spectrum can be equally successful. It is the strategy and the content behind it that is the key.

I have already seen evidence of initial planning for HSW act compliance with which falls into the bells and whistles category but is possibly missing the mark in terms of improving safety standards. There are also many organisations ignoring the coming change waiting to see what everybody else does.

It is standard insurance industry practice to generate fear while at the same time offering the solution. Any investment in improving workplace health and safety is to be applauded provided it is applied to the right areas. Throwing money and people at health and safety is not necessarily going to make our workplaces any safer. Our national safety record in recent years is proof that many organisations are not hitting the mark in health and safety either through lack of focus or investing in the wrong strategies.

Health and safety practitioners and the organisations they support have a fantastic opportunity over the next 18 months to raise the bar in workplace safety in New Zealand. I hope they don’t blow it by making the same old mistakes that we have seen repeated over the last 20 years.

There are hundreds of health and safety professionals who will be out there doing a great job implementing this new legislation at organisational level. Just remember that there will also be a number of sharks attracted to the smell of money and power that are going to turn this legislation into a fear fuelled feeding frenzy. What they recommend and implement might look and sound fantastic but the true results will only be realised long after their invoices have been paid and they have moved on to greener pastures. This is fine if we are talking about something like a new software package that doesn’t match the hype. But we are talking about the health and safety of ordinary New Zealanders going about their work.

For those with in management who are wanting to do the right thing by their employees and support the new legislation I have two pieces of advice – 1. expensive is not always the best. 2. a health and safety framework is only as good as the extent that staff are prepared to embrace it.

If anyone out there is wondering what the new legislation means for them and their organisation I am happy to have a free confidential discussion about what implementation strategy might suit them best. Either email me or call me 021-2221359.

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