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The Human Resources Institute of New Zealand

Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) is the professional body for those involved in Human Resource Management and the development of people.

HRINZ represents the interests of 3,000+ individual members who make up around 45% of the known New Zealand HR market. Read More

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submission for the Review of Workplace Health and Safety Strategy

Date of Submission May 2009

Contact details:
Debbie Bridge
HRINZ
Level 1,
11 Chewslane
Wellington
Tel: 04 4992966

The Human Resources Institute of New Zealand [HRINZ] is an association of people who are interested or involved in the management and development of people at work.
The Institute's objectives are: to encourage and support the development of professional knowledge and competence and high standards of performance among its members within New Zealand; o promote within New Zealand understanding of all aspects of human resources management and development and its contribution to the performance of individuals and organisations;  and to provide within New Zealand an authoritative and influential viewpoint on all matters affecting its members and the management and development of people at work.

The Department of Labour asked HRINZ to comment on the following four questions listed below:

What progress has been made in workplace health and safety in New Zealand over the last three years?

On this issue our members felt that there had been genuine progress made in workplace health and safety over the last three years within New Zealand. General improvements have been commented in the following areas:

  • The level of support provided by ACC with regards to the Workplace Safety Discount packages and Safety initiatives targeted at poor performing companies.
  • A noticeable improvement in the accessibility web site information
  • The introduction of DOL litigators to provide guidance and assistance to Courts on how to determine culpability relating to potential harm rather than actual harm experienced was seen to be highly beneficial
  • The level of co-ordination and communication between the Authorities such as: DOL, Police, CAA, Maritime and ACC regarding Safety initiatives have improved

What is working well and should be continued or expanded?

On this issue our members expressed the opinion that they felt that the work place health and strategy in New Zealand was working as it had started to make genuine progress by starting to level out the playing field with almost all of the workers now covered by the HSE Act. Our members supported the decision that the strategy should continue being implemented and the following areas could be expanded upon:

  • There should be greater access to OSH inspectors to provide advice and guidance – this service must continue to be available without penalizing organisations who are trying to make improvements within their organisation
  • OSH inspectors could adopt a more pro-active consultative approach to assist and improve organisations compliance levels
  • All school students should receive basic H & S and *workplace bullying training before leaving school so when they enter the workforce they will already have knowledge and understanding regarding H & S compliance and unacceptable workplace behaviour which will have a positive impact on the organisation in the long term.

*Our members state that the issue of workplace bullying and harassment should be included in any review or expansion plans for to address the issue. This issue has wide reaching negative impacts for the employee, the organisation and our economy.

What are the main barriers to achieving the goal of “healthy people in safe and productive workplaces”?

On this issue our members felt that there still are significant cost/compliance barriers for small businesses to overcome, the H & S message was losing its voice in the myriad of complicated compliance requirements that all seem to be competing against one another, clearly there still is an obvious lack of understanding as to the impact of poor H & S performance among some industry groups.

To overcome these many barriers to achieve the goal of ‘healthy people in safe productive workplaces’ we believe the following areas need to be addressed:

  • Cost of compliance
  • Simpler Guidance for SME’s to understand
  • Leadership and Management Buy In
  • Workplace Bullying

Cost of Compliance

Our members commented that there should be more assistance for small business many which operate in industries with specific needs which would require a special assessment of their H & S requirements which results in them battling to find the money to pay for the H & S consultations necessary to get it right.

However, if industry groups combined their resources a basic guideline (similar to the current Safety Discount packs) could make it much easier for individual organisations to adopt and implement effective H & S practices. Could the ACC continue to work with other industries to come up with such a simple guideline pack?

  • Simpler guidance for smes
  • Our members suggested that there was a need to understand that guidelines for H&S have to cater for all possibilities and tend therefore to be more complex than most small business needs to understand which then may lead to small businesses ignoring them.
  • Our members suggested that clearer or more stratified or conditional guidelines for situations where the need is simpler? For example:
  • A small warehouse/factory where a forklift is used only for lifting small pallets on and off shelves and moving them around within a small inside area. Some H & S considerations are essential but the current guidelines require training by an approved trainer, which invariably means a full day’s course.


The guidelines themselves require a considerable level of understanding, which most employers won’t be able to spend the time on. n organisation which uses a small motor boat to ferry staff to and from work sites – sure there are a number of basic H & S essentials but the requirement for a boat masters certificate is probably excessive. Bearing in mind the large percentage of people employed in SMEs, the country’s H & S strategy really should be focusing on what is practical for them as well as on a structure that can work effectively for a larger organisation.


Leadership and management buy in

Our members offered the view point that they found senior management teams (SMT) appear not to recognize the importance of H & S in the workplace on number levels. Could this be due to the large number of Baby boomers in workplaces being slow to change their behaviour and understanding of consequences (at employee and various management levels)? Which result in senior management and managers not driving home the H & S message in all areas of their business by fully recognising the benefits of health and safety can have on employee productivity and workforce?

Within most small businesses – indeed most businesses generally, individuals are left to do their work – it is impractical and poor practice to micro manage particularly if the jobs are too small. It should be sufficient that the manager has informed the employee of the procedure, provided the resources and that H&S compliance expectations are agreed in the employment contract.

Any non-compliance by the staff member is the accountability of the staff member. Without this the understanding the manager just finds him or herself questioning the use of time and money to set things up, since he or she can’t monitor it and will still be liable – it is seen as being just as practical to enable people to take accountability for their compliance measured by their manager as part of normal delivery of work results. Employers know that every employee must be provided an overview of the areas of danger at the induction stage. However it is often a case of the employer going through the motions and box ticking.

Our members suggested that an interesting exercise for employers to conduct would be to assess their employee’s knowledge and understanding of their H & S training they had received previously. In order to be able to measure what the employees had actually understood from the training or remembered them for their own personal safety.

How often do employers provide refresher training in the H & S area through the employee’s career? Could the government/ACC come up with clearer guidelines on how small businesses get staff back to work after an accident - as they have limited alternatives in this area?

Organisations currently appear too reactive rather than proactive when it comes to the area of health and safety from both the interests of the staff member to be equipped with the correct information to be responsible for themselves and from the interests of the vulnerability from a corporate perspective. This could be due to the fact that the organisation does not fully understand what H& S is all about; lacking the leadership and guidance from their senior management on the impacts of poor H & S performance can have an organisation which therefore leads us back to compliance and guidance issues.

If small businesses simply do not understand their compliance obligations due to the complexity they are set out then enforcing H & S compliance with a big stick approach is not the most advisable way to correct this matter.

Obvious our members are not saying that in some circumstances the big stick approach is necessary, but perhaps recommending that the Government could create and put in place some better incentives for employers and employees to take H & S seriously. Our members have recommended that the Government should be providing leadership in this area by actively encouraging the corporate and senior managers to drive H & S education, initiatives and policy throughout their organisations. By placing greater priority on these issues this will enhance the quality of the work place environment enabling them to achieve outstanding rewards for productivity and growth in the long term.


Workplace Bullying

Our members have strongly identified the one area where the current H & S legislation is struggling to gain traction – is that of addressing Workplace Bullying which is a major cause of stress related illness and absences.

Bullying can be viewed as both an employment relationship issue, and/or a health and safety issue. Most organisations deal with it as an employment relationship issue, although the HASIE Act does provide for it in their definition of a hazard. We believe that the Department's approach is appropriate, and do not support the recommendation that secondary school students receive workplace bullying training before they leave school. Bullying is more endemic in schools than workplaces, and it may be more appropriate to include health and safety training as part of all post-secondary course work.

The Government should be looking to take leadership and ownership of this area of weakness in our current legislation which is having a severe effect on business profitability and costing the New Zealand economy millions of dollars in lost productivity.

The definition of what constitutes workplace bullying in the legislation needs to be improved along with law around what constitutes evidence. The current difficulty an employer is faced with in this situation is that bullies succeed by isolating their victims making it impossible for them to gather witnesses to their own experience. Therefore the victim is constantly stuck in a situation where their only defence is what they say; and upon investigating and confronting the alleged bully their reply will be to say "that's not true" therefore attacking the validity of the complaint and introducing an element of hearsay .

What constitutes sexual and racial harassment is clearly defined by law so when it comes to employers implementing workplace processes to identify and deal with it; it is a clear cut process to follow once a victim comes forth with a complaint. Many other countries accept workplace bullying as a serious and identifiable H & S issue. However in New Zealand, workplace bullying is not accepted as a serious and identifiable H & S issue which is not clearly defined under law.

This is where employers tend to flounder as by the government not clearly identifying this serious H & S issue, there is no clear legal guidance or process for them to follow. This only compounds the problem further and allowing the issues of workplace bullying to continue and grow ultimately impacting on that organisation productivity, profitability and national economy. Our members have expressed the view that there has been many research studies and surveys completed on this area and experts such as Haydn Olsen and the late Andrea Needham on this subject, clearly defining the problem being faced within our workplaces, defining behaviours displayed and how to eliminate this problem from the workplace environment for the Government to call upon.

Our members felt that the gap in the current H & S legislation will continue unless there is clear legal guidance in the form of legislation to address this matter.

What should the current and future priorities for workplace health and safety in New Zealand be?

On this issue of current and future priorities for workplace health and safety we believe that the following points should be focused upon:

  • To continue with ACC support regarding Workplace Safety Discount packages and Safety initiatives and continue to provide easier more accessible website information
  • To continue to focus on poor performing and med - high risk / high impact industries
  • To continue to make more OSH inspectors more accessible to provide advice and guidance to organisation without fear of penalties
  • To continue with DOL litigators to provide guidance and assistance to Courts
  • To maintain the current co-ordination and communication of information between Authorities
  • For OSH inspectors to adopt more pro-active consultative approaches to assist organisations with their compliance requirements
  • To create and issue simpler and more practical guidelines and packs to be created for small businesses
  • To provide assistance to small businesses with their H & S assessment and compliance requirements by reducing the financial burden faced by small business of compliance costs
  • To create better incentives for H & S compliance by small businesses to ensuring them as employers and employees to take H & S seriously
  • For the Government to create and issue clearer guidelines on how small businesses get staff back to work after an accident
  • For the Government to highlight the importance of operating a healthy and safe workplace to all business leaders, actively encouraging all senior corporate levels and small business owners to drive H & S issues throughout their organisations and educate all levels of management to the benefits of a safe and healthy workforce
  • For the Government to accept and clearly identify Workplace Bullying as a H & S issue
  • For the Government to provide a clear legal definition and guidelines for employers to use which clearly identity and address this serious H & S problem, implementing strategies to eliminate this from our workplace to support a healthy workplace environments
  • For the Government to create a H &S initiative to be rolled out to all school leaving students to receive H & S training before leaving school to provide them with essential H & S understanding to better equip them for their working life before joining the workforce
  • To start looking and using employee engagement surveys as a serious predictor of workplace productivity and predictor of workplace safety incidents.
  • Gallup has conducted extensive research on employee engagement, factors that contribute to workplace health and safety.
  • Findings show that employees who are engaged within their organisations have higher productivity and members within a team of high employment engagement are more likely to look out for their team members and prevent accidents from occurring in the workplace. Their 2008 survey showed 61% of working population was not engaged with their organisation which is a high percentage of people that are not being productive or potentially exposed to workplace incidents.

In summary our member’s views are that the Workplace Health and Safety and Strategy for New Zealand over the last three years of operation have genuinely made some successful improvements and progress in the area of Health & Safety.

However, this Workplace Health and Safety and Strategy for New Zealand does need to continue to build on the success it has achieved by continuing to promote and re-enforce the importance of H& S issues within the workplace, highlighting the positive benefits and impacts H & S can have on businesses profitability and productivity and to continue to educate all levels of management to the benefits of a safe and healthy workforce.

For the Workplace Health and Safety and Strategy for New Zealand to be truly successful the Government needs to clearly accept and identify that Workplace Bullying does exist within our workforces, is one of the most serious and critical issues that is holding back the development and performance of organisations to-date within our country and that it is an H & S issue which needs to be addressed.

HRINZ would fully support in working towards changing the current H & S legislation to gain some traction to address workplace bullying.

Any additional comments?

Education

We understand that the Department of Labour encourages industry organisations to develop industry-specific guidelines and codes of practices. We believe it is unclear whether organisations and sector understand this opportunity and this presents a possible avenue for clarification and education

Industry/Sector Leadership

In their publication 'Keeping Work Safe: The Department of Labour's Policy on enforcing the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992' published in April this year, the Department has outlined that they will take enforcement action when an organisation is non-compliant, even if an incident hasn't occurred.  This is to ensure that companies do not gain an unfair competitive advantage by not complying with the law. Employees now have the ability to notify the Department of accidents etc, so there are avenues for employees to report unsafe acts. However, we think the industry organisations need to take more of a lead on health and safety.

Good Data

We believe that one of the reasons behind the lack of buy-in at senior management team level is the perception that an untoward event is unlikely. Until there is more NZ-based research and metrics about the business impact of un-managed health and safety issues, then there is less likely to be sufficient traction. There is also the issue that it is the wider public sector that does the more hazardous 'Category Four' work, but they may not in all cases be resourced to work safely. E.g. Police, Corrections, Child, Youth & Family, DHBs etc.

This response by the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand [HRINZ] to the Discussion concerning the Review of Review of the Workplace Health and Safety and Strategy for New Zealand and how effective and efficient this strategy has been over the last three year.

HRINZ is the professional organisation for people who are interested or involved in the management and development of human resources. HRINZ represents the interests of individual members who work in private and public sector organisations throughout New Zealand. There are over 3800 members working in such organisations around New Zealand.

HRINZ provides its members with education and information services, conferences and seminars, publications, representation at government and official levels, and networking opportunities. HRINZ helps members to develop their professional skills and knowledge as human resources practitioners and key decision-makers in their organisations.

HRINZ may be distinguished from other groups in that it represents professional human resource management in contrast to other groups who may be more focused on economic interests.

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