New Health & Safety Legislation – What Does it Mean?

GS at 40th

Our Chief Executive, Graham Seatter (pictured left), comments below about the forthcoming changes in Health and Safety law…

New Health and Safety Legislation becomes law on Monday 4th April 2016

The Government passed new Health and Safety legislation last year and it becomes law early next month.  What does that mean for our business, and what does it mean for our customers?

From our point of view it is another major step in the process of increased compliance, which means greater costs and increased workload.  We had the Adventure Activities Regulations introduced in 2014, followed by new accounting standards for charities, this new health and safety legislation plus our TEC and NZQA education reviews, audits of individual grants and donations and the annual auditing of our accounts – to mention a few!

We are committed to running an efficient and safe business so – in principle – we have no problem with complying to standards that are set at a high level, however the act of proving compliance does not in itself make us a safer or more efficient business.

The cost is very significant for us, but we are a relatively big business within our sector.  For many smaller businesses these costs are becoming prohibitive – there are many stories of organisations in our sector drip-feeding payments to auditing organisations because their cashflow does not allow them make a single, full payment.  You could argue that this is good news for us as competition may be disappearing, however our view is that we want a successful sector with many thousands of kids receiving outdoor education experiences – small businesses closing their doors will not help us all achieve that outcome.

So what does this new legislation mean for our business?  If governance boards are voluntary then individual board members cannot be prosecuted, so sanctions can only be placed on salaried people in positions of responsibility – so at a personal level within my organisation I am “in the gun”!  The obvious question for me to answer is – if there is a serious accident, will I be prosecuted?  I take some comfort from the Worksafe website which in answer to that question says:

The decision by WorkSafe to take enforcement action is not an automatic one and lots of things will need to be taken into consideration before deciding what, if any, enforcement actions are appropriate. For example:

  • What was the level of harm?
  • What was the level of knowledge about the risk?
  • What options were available to manage the risk?
  • What is the board of trustees doing about it?
  • Was this a one-off incident or part of a series of issues?

Prosecution is usually a last resort and is not a decision taken lightly.

The legislation is primarily about “worker engagement and participation”.  So what do you actually need to do?  Worksafe has this to say in answer to that question:

Your business needs to proactively identify and manage its health and safety risks, and make sure information about health and safety is shared with workers, and workers are engaged in matters that could affect their health and safety.

Use these tips to get your health and safety processes on the right track:

  • Identify health and safety hazards and risks, and take steps to prevent these from happening.
  • Make sure health and safety in your business is led from the top, has involved and is understood by your staff, and is reviewed regularly.
  • Hold regular training on health and safety matters.
  • Engage workers in health and safety matters that affect them.
  • Support all officers to get up to date with health and safety issues and key risk factors.
  • Report and monitor health and safety goals.
  • Regularly review any incidents.
  • Carry out frequent health and safety audits.

And finally – does it mean that we all need to cease with adventure activities?  Worksafe says:

We want to save lives, not stop adventure activities.  It’s about confirming health and safety as an integral part of your culture, ensuring students and everyone involved in supporting adventure activities is healthy and safe. Everyone deserves to come home healthy and safe. 

So – let’s keep on doing what we are doing, but make sure we are acting in a really safe manner and also ensure that we do the paperwork.