Scramble to meet work safety Act

Dunedin people working in the health and safety area are being flooded with inquiries and concerns as the implementation of the Health and Safety at Work Act looms.

The Act comes into force on Monday, and will mean directors and chief executives of companies and organisations will bear responsibility for the safety of their workers.

That is expected to mean more resources being put into the area by directors keen to stay free of a criminal record.

Those spoken to said the changes were needed, as New Zealand has slipped behind its trading partners in keeping workers safe.

Anderson Lloyd Lawyers partner Frazer Barton said it was hard to know how prepared people were, but his firm was getting "a huge flood of inquiries''.

The new laws affected directors and others who made governance decisions that significantly affected a business.

"Officers have a duty of due diligence to ensure their business complies with its health and safety obligations.''

There had been plenty in the media about the changes, and Mr Barton said he did not think anybody could have avoided or ignored the changes.

"There are significant changes that come into effect.

"It's management and governance; those are the areas of change. Responsibility has been sheeted home at the very highest level.''

While company boards needed to be fully aware of what they had to do and how they had to go about it, "what they're doing on a practical day-to-day basis on the shop floor shouldn't be any different from the past, if you're doing things properly''.

Mr Barton said New Zealand had slipped behind its trading partners in terms of workplace safety.

The idea of higher level management taking responsibility for health and safety came out of the 2010 Pike River mining disaster in which 29 people died.

Mr Barton said making money available for health and safety was a policy decision by a board, and in the past it had not ranked highly.

The new laws meant "directors being a little bit scared of ending up with a criminal history''.

Mr Barton said it was more likely resources would go into health and safety now the likes of chief executives were more liable.

"They're going to be responsible for that.''

PCBU Health and Safety owner Kelvin Trainor said he was dealing with plenty of inquiries.

"I'm flat out.''

The health and safety specialist said hazard management was a major component of the Act.

"They need to work out within their company what risks are presented to staff and what controls you have in place to manage them.

"I believe we're years behind. We are literally years behind Australia. That's my opinion.

"We have copied Australia.''

Mr Trainor said people in Dunedin were "definitely not'' organised for the change.

"It's a massive change.''

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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