Getting ready for new H&S regime

By Malcolm Abernethy, executive officer, CCNZ

The Health and Safety Reform Bill has been passed by Parliament. It will come into effect on 4 April 2016.

A series of regulations is being developed to support the new act. These regulations include: general risk and workplace management; major hazard facilities; asbestos; and, engagement by worker participation and representation.

Once the regulations are finalised, WorkSafe will issue formal guidance to support the act and regulations. This formal guidance will start to become available in 2016.

The legislation identifies PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) and their workers as having the best knowledge about the specific risks arising from their work. They are both best placed to provide solutions about how to manage those risks.

Civil Contractors NZ supported the move to a risk-based approach to evaluating risk and addressing those risks. The legislation requires that the risks be eliminated or minimised however we suggest contractors should consider using the internationally recognised hierarchy of controls which requires risks to be eliminated, isolated or minimised (often referred to as engineering controls). There are two further control mechanisms to manage health and safety risk being Administration, or systems, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

PPE however is the last line of defence and requires the selection of the right equipment for the risk being mitigated and its proper use.

In most cases the right PPE is self-evident, from safety footwear, safety glasses, earmuffs, hard hat and gloves. What some contend is less clear is the need to wear long sleeves and long trousers – long-longs!

Long-longs were mandated for all SCIRT construction sites from 2012 with the reasons being that they provided protection against harmful over exposure to sunlight and some physical injuries such as cuts and scrapes. As an industry we experienced some resistance to long-longs being mandatory yet we see more and more of our workers wearing this PPE.

Long-longs are mandatory in other jurisdictions around the world and from that international experience there is clear evidence that they reduce the incidence of health risks from UV exposure and the incidence of minor scrapes and cuts. Long-longs also reduce the infection rates of cuts particularly in warm climates and offer protection from materials such as concrete, diesel and other chemicals construction workers may be exposed to.

When long-longs became mandatory there was limited choice of fabric type available but it has now been shown that modern fabrics keep workers cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Selection of the right long-longs should include their suitability for the work being done with cognisance being taken of any extreme hot/cold environments. Flameproof overalls must be worn as appropriate or required – bitumen spraying and welding are good examples of this.

The main reason for the long-longs requirement is simply to provide sun protection as New Zealand has some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. The use of long-longs is indeed the long game because excessive exposure and the damaging effects may not become apparent for many years as is the case with asbestos, diesel particulates, many types of chemicals and silica dust.

By law the wearing of long-longs and other PPE is a ‘duty of care’ requirement for both parties. The employer’s duty of care is to ensure it has policies and systems in place to ensure employees are safe at work. The employee’s duty of care is to comply with these procedures to ensure their own safety and that of their workmates.

While sunscreen can be effective to protect from the sun it offers only secondary protection and it is still recommended to protect the face from reflected ultraviolet light from concrete and other reflective surfaces.

As an industry we should put the long-longs debate behind us and move forward by recognising the harm that may occur as a result of excessive or prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light.

The new law comes into effect on 4 April 2016 and until then the current Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 remains in force. Between now and April next year WorkSafe will provide supporting information to help you get ready.

In the meantime here are five things you can do now: Familiarise yourself with the key concepts of the legislation by contacting Civil Contractors NZ; review your health and safety practices; identify health and safety risks in your business and take steps to prevent these from causing harm; and lead by example.

Make health and safety part of your workplace culture.

This article was first published in the November issue of Contractor.

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