How different will Health and Safety be?

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How different will it be for employers and employees turning up to work with the introduction of the new Health and Safety at Work Act?

The Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) says most of its members should find that little will change overnight, but what will change over time will be the move to proactively mitigate health and safety risks which impact businesses.

“We have worked constantly with our members, the regulator and government officials on this new legislation, to ensure we move away from a compliance-only model to one of active engagement in this space,” EMA employment relations and safety manager Paul Jarvie says.

“Yes, there are changes — but this is not about catching employers out. Rather, it’s about good business. A safe and healthy workforce is more efficient and productive. Which is why it is heartening to see WorkSafe taking a modern approach as a regulator to engage, empower, educate and lead, before having to prosecute,” he says.

The main areas of difference are around director responsibilities, the place of business and employee engagement.

At a governance level, directors, chief executive officers and board members will need to be comfortable and have confidence that all is well in the health and safety space — and require positive inquiry.

“We know that this has become increasingly important for our members, with 75% of respondents to our most recent Employers Survey saying board members were actively involved and understood their requirements under the new Act,” Mr Jarvie says.

For businesses (persons conducting a business or undertaking, PCBU) the new legislative framework is about ensuring there are robust systems in place.

“It’s like having an engine, and ensuring that it’s well maintained, oiled and running smoothly and fit for purpose,” he says. “This is about identifying the small number of high risks you have, and managing these comprehensively in the first place.

“Once this new Act settles down, I think the key area will be ensuring the health of your employees in the workplace — for example, mitigating exposure to fumes, dust and chemicals,” Mr Jarvie says.

He also recommends that employers take the time, if they have not done so already, to be proactive and check their systems against the new regulations.

One of the other key areas of difference is engaging employees to ensure there is two-way communication in relation to health and safety.

“It’s about driving a culture where risks are raised and managed before an issue arises, as opposed to dealing with a situation after the fact,” he says.

Finally, the EMA provides a range of services for employers to help them be prepared for the new Act. A two-day OH&S conference is being held on April 19-20 in Auckland, featuring 14 speakers. There is also the 0800 AdviceLine and regional consultants who can provide advice for members.