HRINZ HEALTH AND SAFETY REFORM BILL SUBMISSION
HRINZ (Human Resources Institute of New Zealand Incorporated) is a not-for-profit membership organisation representing the interests of 4000 individual members. HRINZ members include those working in private and public sector organisations, as well as students and academics. HRINZ provides members with education and information services, conferences and seminars, publications, representation at government and official levels, and networking opportunities. This helps members to develop their professional skills and knowledge in the practice and teaching of human resource management.
HRINZ is making this submission on behalf of its members, all of whom are individual members as HRINZ does not offer corporate membership. HRINZ has canvassed member views via online discussion groups and the views and opinions expressed here reflect a broad spectrum of views from HR practitioners at all levels who work in large and small organisations across New Zealand. This submission represents the views of some but not all HRINZ members, and has been endorsed by the HRINZ Board, who are committed to support best people management practices in the workplace to ensure the health and wellbeing of all employees and thereby lift workplace productivity.
You will be very aware that; excepting those organisations where health and safety reports directly to the CEO; in most organisations the health and safety expert(s) and functions will report to the GM of HR or equivalent. As a result this is a particularly important piece of legislation for our members.
We will provide detailed comments on the contents of the Bill in the latter part of the submission, however before this we feel it necessary to discuss the wider context and environment into which the Bill is being introduced.
HRINZ fully supports the purpose of the Health and Safety Reform Bill and applauds the development and implementation of a balanced framework. However, we strongly believe that the framework will largely be ineffective without improved leadership, better education around health and safety, organisational and societal culture changes, and the funding and resources to achieve the aforementioned. Whilst in time, the regulatory and penalty regime may heighten awareness, the Pike River tragedy and resulting reports highlight to us that it would be better to focus on the deeper, underlying causes that brought us to require this Bill.
Inadequate leadership in many organisations is creating or at least tolerating a laissez faire environment which is underpinned by a reluctancy to change and entrenched complacency. When combined with an unwillingness to commit to educating employees, this leads to a lack of engagement from staff and a workplace culture that breeds poor attitudes towards health and safety. Leadership is also responsible for cultivating an environment in which employees feel safe and supported, not fearful, when reporting health and safety issues. As stated by the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety (2013, p.16) “Leadership is vital to creating a workplace culture in which health and safety automatically comes first”. There is also a lack of funding and resources to properly educate workplaces and to signal that matters of health and safety are a priority. Training also needs to be accessible to all and not cost-prohibitive.
Of course health and safety needs to be driven by the workforce as much as by senior leaders, therefore it is pleasing to see an emphasis on worker participation in the Bill. Encouraging consultation from employees when developing health and safety strategies is also wise as worker input is often an effective strategy towards achieving organisational culture change. There is a slight concern, however, that with employee participation being less defined, more detailed and expensive models may be imposed in the future. It is important that businesses are empowered to identify the right path to engage their people to achieve a legislated outcome. Personal responsibility is also key. Officers’ duty should also apply to Workers. The “reasonably practicable” qualifier can be used for officers and workers in all circumstances to assess whether the duty was breached. This approach will again help to influence a cultural change where health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. The definition of Officer should also be clarified further so people with this duty are very clear about their responsibilities.
As mentioned, culture change is essential if New Zealand is to improve its health and safety record, yet any legislation needs to enable this change rather than ‘force’ it. We feel the carrot and stick approach of bringing in large penalties as a form of threat will not help us achieve the desired health and safety outcomes in the New Zealand workplace, which is typified by a high level of SMEs as opposed to some of the larger corporations found in Australia.
It has been noted by our members that the penalties are very severe, and the mere introduction of this Bill has already had the adverse consequence of driving health and safety behaviours underground. Investigations are now being undertaken under legal privilege, no communication is happening and the learning and sharing environment that previously existed has disappeared. We are unsure of how the penalties will be applied, but just proposing such has generated a level of apprehension that is governing how organisations respond to health and safety events, and not in a way conducive to best practice.
The Bill is a document of over 200 pages written in ‘dense’ legal language which is often impenetrable to those responsible for health and safety in the workplace. We suggest producing a step-by-step guide or toolkit, written for a non-specialist audience who may be picking up health and safety in a SME. It must be straightforward, written in plain English, and ideally incorporate checklists for easy implementation.
HRINZ would welcome the opportunity to address the Committee and consult in the development of future health and safety initiatives.