People not worms- the new H&S focus

PETER SILCOCK, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CIVIL CONTRACTORS NEW ZEALAND

THE HEALTH AND SAFETY REFORM BILL that was finally passed by Parliament on 27 August 2015 is very significant for the civil contracting industry. The new law, now named the Health and Safety at Work Act, will come into effect on 4 April 2016.

It is unfortunate that the passing of the new Act drew more media comments about the classification of worm farmers than it did about the high level principles of the Act and what it will mean for employers and employees.

Most contractors already have a very strong health and safety focus. They understand that protecting their people, ensuring people are trained for their roles and have the right equipment to do the job are critical. Contractors I have spoken to also understand that safe businesses are productive and successful businesses.

High quality systems, processes and procedures are critical but out on the site it’s all about people making the right decisions, using the systems and following the procedures.

Businesses need to create a culture, where health and safety is everyone’s business, safe practices are expected and a critical part of everyday work. It is all about changing the way people think and act.

The key changes in the new Act are about people and will assist in creating that health and safety culture. The changes focus on creating roles and responsibilities and empowering people in the workplace. Examples of that include:

• Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking – The Act establishes the primary duty of care that requires all “Persons conducting a business or undertaking” (PCBUs) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable:

1. The health and safety of workers employed or engaged or caused to be employed or engaged by the PCBU or those workers who are influenced or directed by the PCBU (for example, workers and contractors)

2. That the health and safety of other people (for example visitors, customers and the general public) is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking.

In most cases the PCBU will be the company itself. The Act creates a new duty for officers of a PCBU (such as a director, board member or partner) to exercise due diligence to ensure that the PCBU complies with its duties.

This places a positive duty on people at the governance level of an organisation to actively engage in health and safety matters, reinforcing that health and safety is everyone’s responsibility.

There is still some uncertainty as to who will be an “Officer” under the subsection that deals with the “exercise of significant influence over the management of the business or undertaking”. It is expected that it will cover chief executives or their equivalents but further guidance, either from WorkSafe or the courts, will be provided about this in the future. This guidance will provide clarity about how far down an organisation the duty applies.

The PCBU concept captures the full range of duty holders in the modern work environment, so that the distinction between principal, contractor, and subcontractor is now meaningless for the purposes of the Act.

• Worker participation – The second major change is that the Act strengthens existing requirements for worker engagement and participation in workplace health and safety matters.

Stronger worker participation underlines the expectation that everyone in the workplace is responsible for workplace health and safety, and that workers are empowered to intervene when they see an unsafe situation.

All businesses in the construction sector, including small businesses, will when requested by workers have to initiate an election for a health and safety representative and if requested will have to decide whether to establish a health and safety committee.

What happens next?

With the Act now in place the next steps are:

1. That regulations will be developed to support the new Act. These include:

• General risk and workplace management,

• Major hazard facilities,

• Asbestos, and

• Engagement, worker participation and representation (which we expect to be available shortly for public consultation)

2.  Once the regulations are finalised, WorkSafe will issue formal guidance to support the Act and regulations.

Civil Contractors New Zealand is represented on the groups developing the regulations for general risk and workplace management and worker participation.

We will continue to strongly represent contractors to ensure the regulations are practical and workable and that the guidance material meets the needs of the people out there on sites.

Health and safety matters because our people are our most important asset.

*This article was first published in October’s Contractor magazine.

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