The Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety yesterday presented the Government with recommendations for the overhaul of New Zealand's health and safety legislation. This update summarises the Taskforce's recommendations and outlines the progress towards establishing a new Government health and safety agency.

Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety presents findings

The Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety was appointed by the Minister of Labour in June 2012 to carry out a broad review of New Zealand's workplace health and safety systems. As we have reported previously, the Taskforce conducted consultation with the New Zealand public, issuing a consultation document, inviting submissions and attending public meetings, hui and focus groups.

As a result of its review – the first evaluation of New Zealand's health and safety framework for 20 years – the Taskforce has determined that the current system is "not fit for purpose" due to a number of significant weaknesses it has identified across the board.

The Taskforce has recommended the Government implement a number of initiatives to bring about "substantial change" to New Zealand's health and safety performance. The Government has already accepted the Taskforce's early recommendation to establish a stand-alone health and safety agency. The Taskforce's other recommendations, which reflect an emphasis on health and safety leadership and improving organisational culture, include:

  • Implementing a levy that rewards businesses for good health and safety performance. The Taskforce proposes that the levy calculations are based on risk profiles, lead and lag indicators and the cost of regulatory activity across different industries.
  • Enacting new health and safety legislation based on the Australian Model Law that will extend health and safety duties to individuals in governance roles within organisations and replace the current requirement that parties take "all practicable steps" to ensure health and safety with a new test that requires parties to take "reasonably practicable" steps.
  • Extending the existing offence of manslaughter to apply to corporations and revising the framework that underpins corporate liability for all offences.
  • Strengthening the framework for worker participation in health and safety to impose more onerous obligations on employers to support worker participation (including union rights of entry to workplaces and worker health and safety representatives) and provide greater protection to workers who raise health and safety concerns.
  • Strengthening the regulatory regime to manage the risks posed by major hazard facilities (particularly in relation to major hazard chemical storage and processing facilities).

The Taskforce has also indicated that the Government should model good health and safety practice through the development of a public health and safety awareness campaign, incorporating health and safety considerations into procurement policies and ensuring its own agencies deliver "excellent health and safety outcomes".

Establishment of new Health and Safety Agency

One of the Taskforce's central recommendations is the creation of a standalone health and safety agency, which was announced in February 2013 and which the Government has accepted. The Taskforce proposes that the new agency be overseen by an independent chair and a governance body that reflects the interests of workers, unions, employers and iwi.

The new Agency, which is expected to be fully operational by December 2013, will assume the health and safety functions that are currently carried out by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and employment (MBIE). The Taskforce recommends that the Agency's responsibilities include:

  • Rigorous oversight of health and safety compliance through "visible and effective" compliance activity;
  • Regulating hazardous substances;
  • Coordinating the activities of the transport regulatory agencies (including the Civil Aviation Authority, Maritime New Zealand, New Zealand Police and New Zealand Transport Agency) to ensure effective interaction that takes advantage of common capabilities and specialist expertise;
  • Preparing comprehensive regulations, approved codes of practice and guidance material for employers;
  • Improving the quality and availability of data and information on workplace injury; and
  • Working in partnership with the Accident Compensation Corporation to oversee funding arrangements for workplace prevention activities.

Cabinet agreed last week to create the Health and Safety Crown Agency Establishment Board, which will oversee the establishment of the new Agency. The Minister of Labour has commenced a process to appoint members to the establishment board, which will report to MBIE and advise the Minister on progress towards the establishment of the Agency.

Legislation to establish the new Agency is currently being drafted and is scheduled to be introduced to Parliament in June 2013. The Minister of Labour has indicated that the Government will consider the Taskforce's other recommendations and provide its response within three months.

How we can help you

If you wish to discuss the implications that the changes discussed in this update may have on your organisation, our team has experience advising on a broad range of health and safety matters. We have worked on some of the most high profile health and safety matters in New Zealand and we can assist you with strategies to ensure your organisation is complying with its health and safety obligations. We also have expertise in preparing comprehensive and legally compliant health and safety policies and procedures, auditing current practices and preparing and presenting submissions to select committees on proposed legislative amendments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.