Review of health and safety law 'long overdue'

Road cones laid in central Wellington in February as repair crew investigated a burst pipe. Photo...
Road cones laid in central Wellington in February as repair crew investigated a burst pipe. Photo: RNZ

By Jessie Chiang

An unnecessary sea of orange road cones is just the "tip of the iceberg" for problems within New Zealand's health and safety law, a think-tank says.

The government announced the start of its nationwide health and safety consultation on Friday.

"Our health and safety culture can be summed up by the sea of orange road cones that have taken over the country. From Santa parades to property development, you can't get a lot done without having to set up a barricade of cones," Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Brooke van Velden said.

Brooke van Velden. Photo: RNZ
Brooke van Velden. Photo: RNZ
"While they may improve health and safety in some places, in other situations their prevalence just doesn't make any sense."

Van Velden said the government was seeking feedback on areas such as whether health and safety requirements were too strict or too ambiguous to comply with, difficulties caused by the overlap between work health and safety legislation and other requirements and the actions that businesses undertook, the reasons behind these actions, and their effectiveness.

It also wanted to know whether consequences for not complying with health and safety obligations were appropriately balanced and reasonable and whether the threshold for managing work-related risks was under- or over-cautious.

The New Zealand Initiative (NZI) said a review of the health and safety law was long overdue. Chair Roger Partridge believed while there were parts of the legislation that were too relaxed, many others were too heavy-handed.

"All of us in our everyday lives can see something's gone wrong regulating safety on the roads with the explosion of orange cones. You only need to travel overseas and find that what we're doing has become obsessive.

"Orange cones are just the tip of the iceberg - there are all sorts of inconsistencies that this consultation could help with."

Partridge wanted stronger cost-benefit assessment and the government to revisit rules around personal liability for health and safety outcomes.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association said updated health and safety law should not be a one size fits all solution.

Chief executive Brett O'Riley said it was the right time to review the 10-year-old legislation.

"The current health and safety framework is not working as well as it should be. We know that because there are still far too many New Zealanders being hurt at work and our rates of harm are far higher than other comparable countries."

O'Riley said the current law was an overly complex system based on compliance, which was not delivering any meaningful change.

"As a first step, we need legislation and regulations that are clear, consistent, understandable, and effective. They also need to be adaptable and allow employers to implement appropriate health and safety policies and procedures that reflect the actual risk of different work environments."

He wanted updated law to reflect a difference in risks for different sectors.