Farcical work and safety legislation

The farce created by the Government’s hamfisted changes to the Health and Safety Reform Bill is a tragedy.

The Pike River tragedy created a chance in a generation when seemingly everyone agreed that New Zealand’s appalling workplace safety record must change.

The Government had the mandate and authority to say to all New Zealanders: you know we must change, we will take the decisions needed for real change, and we will support you in that change.

It will require change in the way the regulator, businesses and everyone in them think and act. But it will pay off in less pain, fewer grieving families and more productive workplaces.

The new law was to have been the cornerstone of change.

Instead it will be remembered as a farce about worm farms and paper-hanging being higher risk than quarries, explosive handling, sheep, cattle or dairy farms.

The Government has lost its moral authority and risks squandering this unique opportunity.

Rather than hear the message that change is essential, people will see the law as a result of powerful interest groups clamouring for exceptions – “everyone has to change except me, no matter how many people have died in my industry”.

How can our health and safety culture change in such an environment?

It didn’t have to be like this.

The Government commissioned an Independent Workplace Health and Safety Taskforce, of which I was a member along with three business people, two safety experts and an experienced secretariat, to design a new health and safety system.

Its report recommended a balanced and comprehensive set of actions saying: “It is our firm conviction that the Government must adopt the full range of recommendations made in this report if we are to deliver the outcomes that all working New Zealanders deserve.” Picking it apart is folly. Continue reading

  • Bill Rosenberg is the Council of Trade Unions’ economist and director of policy.
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