4 Apr 2016

New law aims to usher in safer workplaces

7:18 am on 4 April 2016

@rnzbenedict

New health and safety rules that come into force today will mean more people make it home safely at the end of the working day, say business and trade unions.

Health and safety rules

Photo: 123RF

They say the new rules, which come off the back of the Pike River mining tragedy, put a greater emphasis on safe working practices.

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said the Health and Safety Reform law should make a real difference to the lives of workers.

Public Service Association president Richard Wagstaff

Richard Wagstaff Photo: SUPPLIED

"There's a lot of improvements in the Act and there's a much greater awareness of health and safety in New Zealand.

"We think that it's better for mining, but it's better for the wider workplaces and there's more Responsibility put on people in all levels of organisations to address health and safety."

However, Mr Wagstaff said the new rules were not perfect.

"We're concerned about small businesses of less than 20 people having weaker protections in the case of their inability to elect a workplace health and safety [representative], from our point of view there's nothing magic about small businesses."

David Kelly is the chief executive of the Master Builders Association and the chairman of the Construction Safety Council.

He said there was no denying the construction industry's safety record was not flash when compared with countries like Australia, but that could now change.

"What does change is I think a much greater awareness and a push from the government agencies to make sure that people are aware and that they will enforce health and safety.

"One of the key things is making sure that your workers know what they are required to do and that they are competent in terms of their own knowledge and practice."

Labour Party associate workplace safety spokesperson Sue Moroney said Labour largely supported the new rules - but she believed excluding agriculture as a high-risk sector was unforgivable.

Sue Moroney during caucus run 1.03.16

Sue Moroney Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"We're really disappointed that the most dangerous of our sectors that kills the most people every year, being agriculture, that they are not deemed to be a high-risk industry and this means that the full force of the protections under the health and safety laws are not available to that sector."

In excluding agriculture Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse used accident data he had been warned by his own officials was highly misleading.

Under this, worm farms and mini-golf were deemed to be high risk industries, while dairy and beef farms were not.

While he later ditched that data, Mr Woodhouse continued to claim that on a proportional basis agriculture was not a high risk sector.

In 2015, there were 15 deaths per 100,000 workers in agriculture, compared with 1.4 deaths per 100,000 in non-agricultural workplaces - making agriculture proportionally 13 times more deadly.

But a farm safety consultant D'Arcy Palmer said the new law still put a lot more emphasis on the owners and directors of farms to ensure their farms were safe.

He said farmers, or the younger ones anyway, were lifting their game.

"I think it's been a good thing - it's made farmers aware of their responsibilities, directors certainly.

"In farming of course you have the older farmer as well and they are of the old ilk, they're yesterday's men [who say] 'don't tell me what to do on my farm, this is the way it's been done', but those attitudes are changing and the new generation is right on the case, they really are."

The government was hoping the new law would lead to a 25 percent reduction in workplace deaths and injuries by 2020.