Health & safety: Top challenges for 2019

As the New Year begins, many businesses will be revisiting their health and safety controls

Health & safety: Top challenges for 2019

As the New Year begins, many businesses will be revisiting their health and safety controls and reminding workers about how to work safely in all the tasks they are completing. Managers with a strategic focus will also be asking themselves what they can expect from the Government and WorkSafe New Zealand in 2019. Looking into our crystal ball, we expect to see:

  • The Government introduce a new corporate manslaughter/corporate homicide offence. This is likely to see companies, and possibly senior executives, held criminally liable when a worker is killed in the workplace. International experience in the United Kingdom and Australia suggests that large fines and, potentially, imprisonment will be the penalties. We are pessimistic about whether this will make any difference to health and safety outcomes.
  • The Government strengthen worker engagement requirements in health and safety, with a particular focus on health issues and Maori and Pacifica workers. The Government’s Health and Safety at Work Strategy was launched in late 2018 and highlights the need to focus on what will best reduce harm and to build capacity to understand risks. We expect to see a push for greater union involvement in health and safety, possibly, including ‘check inspectors’ in some high risk industries.
  • Reclamation of the drift in the Pike River mine. The issue will then become whether it is necessary (or even possible) to go deeper into the mine to achieve the goal of the miners’ families and recover any remains that may be there.
  • WorkSafe continue to focus on high risk industries like agriculture, construction, fisheries, forestry, logistics, and manufacturing.
  • WorkSafe emphasise the need for consultation between businesses when their activities overlap. This collaboration will require ongoing engagement so risks are identified and actions are taken to proactively manage them.
  • WorkSafe begin to ask hard questions of directors and other company officers, and to verify that they are conducting due diligence about management of health and safety within their organisations. This is likely to shock many business leaders, especially those who are relatively ‘hands off’ about safety.
  • Ongoing upward pressure on fines so penalties ‘bite’ and incentivise better health and safety practices. In addition, we expect greater use of court ordered enforcement options including court ordered enforceable undertakings, training orders and publication orders.

There is no need for doom and gloom. Good planning and processes, coupled with ongoing communication and care, should allow all businesses to achieve safe outcomes in 2019.

Grant Nicholson is a Partner at Kensington Swan and heads the firm’s dedicated health and safety team, the largest specialist practice of its type in New Zealand.

 

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