The Workplace In New Zealand Today Business Essay

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New Zealanders. There is no doubt about it. There is no question about the value of this step in history of Employment legislation in New Zealand either.

The purpose of this report however is not to evaluate the role of the Act but to promote better practice of Workplace Health and Safety Strategy in New Zealand through shifting the focus from the legislation itself to the practical application of it in the workplace with the emphasis on 'human factor'.

The history of health and safety legislation in New Zealand demonstrates that New Zealand governments progressively worked on improvement of both the law and the implementation of the law in regards of health and safety in employment. Nonetheless, the statistics on health and safety notifications have remained very alarming.

This inevitably brings us to a conclusion that we cannot expect the government alone to improve the situation.

At present the health and safety is a matter of compliance for most companies in New Zealand. This means that it is strictly enforced in a 'cascading' way. Often by the time the best of intentions reach the 'bottom' they become no more than tedious rules and regulations.

In order to achieve a genuine support for the implementation of The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 in the workplace we need to change the approach and focus on creating Safety Culture. The structure of this approach could be described as a pyramid. The vision and the inspiration should be coming from the top of the pyramid with the clear understanding that without the acceptance and support from the 'foundation' of the pyramid there will be no real change in the situation.


This report discusses some of the reasons why despite the great effort and expense The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and the following Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Act 2002 still falling short of producing any cardinal change in the workplace today.

This report does not presume to examine all the reasons for the current situation nor does it attempt to find a solution for every problem regarding health and safety. It focused on the importance of only one aspect and explores the possibility and methods of changing people's mentality regarding health and safety in the workplace through the team-building approach.

The anticipated audience is: employers and managers, health and safety personnel and employees who have the energy and initiative to introduce the mentioned above changes to their teams.


1.1 The history of health and safety in employment legislation in New Zealand

The importance of workplace health and safety was first recognised in Western countries in the late 19th century. In New it began in the 1890s with factories legislation, and later legislation was introduced to regulate other hazardous industries, such as mining and construction.

The law however was enforced by inspectors with statutory powers. It tended to be prescriptive, and narrowly focused on particular industries or processes.

It also tended to appear as a reaction to a specific accident, such as a scaffold collapsed, or a mine exploded, or numbers of farmers were crushed by tractors without safety frames rolling on them. This rather 'post-factum' approach was typical throughout the world until the 1970s, when governments began to review health and safety legislation from first principles.

"Robens Report" 1 in 1972 became a landmark in Health and Safety legislation by recommending a single piece of legislation which applied consistent policies and enforcement procedures across the range of industries. It was implemented, and its approach has since been adopted by numerous Commonwealth countries.

New Zealand began to review its health and safety laws in the late 1980s, and as the result we now have the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. The new legislation implemented the major principles of the Robens report, while placing additional emphasis on the need for employers to manage hazards in the workplace.

1.2 What was new about the Health and Safety in Employment Act?

The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 adopted a new legislative approach for promoting health and safety management in places of work - its focus is on the prevention of harm arising out of work activities.

Primary responsibility is placed on the employer, who has a general duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment.

There are other specific duties, including a requirement for employers to identify and actively manage hazards in the workplace. To do this, it sets out a hierarchy of action where employers must follow a process of identification, elimination and isolation.

Regulations provide minimum standards for particular high-hazard industries and work practices.

Guidelines developed by, or in consultation with, industry also outline good practice. Some guidelines may be approved by the Minister of Labour as "approved codes of practice" providing an accepted means of complying with the Act. 2

1.3 What the Act sets out to do

The Health and Safety in Employment Act's object is to promote the prevention of harm to the health and wellbeing in the work place. This is how it is presented:

Promoting excellence in health and safety management, in particular through being systematic.

Defining hazards and harm in a comprehensive way so that all hazards and harm are covered, including harm caused by work-related stress and hazardous behaviour caused by certain temporary conditions.

Imposing duties to ensure that people are not harmed as a result of work activities.

Setting requirements that relate to the taking of all practicable steps to ensure health and safety, and are flexible to cover different circumstances.

Encouraging the health and safety of volunteers.

Requiring employee participation in the improvement of health and safety and encouraging good faith co-operation in places of work.

Providing a range of enforcement methods in response to failure to comply with the Act. 3

1.4 What is the actual situation with health and safety in the workplace today?

Without a doubt the above list cannot raise any objections. It was also clear that the HSE Act was an important step in political life of New Zealand. This however is not the topic of the report.

According to the Department of Labour's latest statistics on health and safety notifications in 2011 4:

41 workers killed at work

6,087 serious harm notifications

These are rather alarming figures for the country with population of 4,405,200. 5

They clearly indicate that the problems concerned with health and safety in the workplace remain and that the government alone cannot 'fix' the situation, no matter how much the legislation is improved.

Strategies and priorities in occupational health and safety cannot be developed by government alone. Workplaces in New Zealand today are characterised by increasingly complex work processes and changing working conditions, which in turn can create new or different types of hazards. The setting of health and safety priorities and strategies however is still usually perceived as a compliance issue and carried out in most of companies as another directive from the top. 'Safety Culture' is merely a term for many organisations, a term with little or no actual relevance to the everyday company's reality.


2.1 Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) policy

The purpose of OSH's enforcement policy is to achieve compliance with the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee (NOHSAC) has produced a series of reports in 2004 - 2006 6, 7, 8

These reports have contained several recommendations for improving occupational health and safety in New Zealand and have been accompanied by corresponding technical reports providing details of the current situation in New Zealand and international practice.

The first NOHSAC technical report, The burden of occupational disease and injury in New Zealand, 6 showes that, each year in New Zealand, there are:

about 700-1,000 deaths from occupational disease, particularly cancer, respiratory disease and ischaemic heart disease

about 100 deaths from occupational injury

17,000-20,000 new cases of work-related disease

about 200,000 occupational accidents resulting in ACC claims, about half of which result in disability and about six percent in permanent disability.

The economic and social costs of occupational disease and injury in New Zealand are estimated to be $20.9 billion per annum. (This includes direct financial costs of $4.9 billion.)

The conclusions and recommendations of this report were intended to provide options for improvement of the situation. Eight years later in 2012 we still face the same predicament.

According to the 2010 statistics, claims for work-related injuries in that year reached 209,701 (male -150,804 female - 58,897)9

I would like to suggest that the method of enforcement of health and safety regulations from the top, increasing control and penalties is not likely to change the general human attitude towards the issue.

As George Robotham put it, "A health & safety problem can be described by statistics but cannot be understood by statistics. It can only be understood by knowing and feeling the pain, anguish, and depression and shattered hopes of the victim and of wives, husbands, parents, children, grandparents and friends, and the hope, struggle and triumph of recovery and rehabilitation in a world often unsympathetic, ignorant, unfriendly and unsupportive, only those with close experience of life altering personal damage have this understanding." 10

2.2 Sources of health and safety information and the human factor

At present the sources of guidance regarding occupational health and safety issues are arranged as a hierarchy according to the degree of strict compliance:

Health and Safety in

Employment Act 1992

Strictly Applied

Regulations made under the Act

Strictly applied without evidence of an

Alternative practice being as effective

Approved codes of practice

Applied by the courts as evidence of good practice



MSDSs, manuals, etc.


publications, and

best practice documents

OSH Guidelines


Management of most of the companies in New Zealand is making sure that all the documentation on Health and Safety is in order. Standards are established; OSH Guidelines are printed out, laminated and displayed for any OSH inspector to see; prescribed regular meetings (where nobody listens or cares) are held; HS Manuals are in order and all the employees signed all the necessary forms. In other words Occupational Health and Safety is a matter of compliance for the management of most companies and not a matter of real concern. The rules are obeyed at least on the surface in order to avoid penalties.

In my opinion the situation is what it is because after everything is said and done the management's main concern is making money. Health and Safety department doesn't make money. On the contrary it costs money. The next best thing it can do then is not get in the way of making money while making sure that all the HS documentation is in order and reports look good in order to avoid extra expenses for the company. In small businesses the situation is usually the same, simply on a different scale.

2.3 Safety Culture in the work place

The fact that management is mostly concerns with the compliance part of OSH is only one side of the problem however. We also need to be aware that attitude towards health and safety in the workplace is a cultural phenomenon. In New Zealand this attitude is reflected in the famous colloquial 'She'll be right' reflective of our supposed generally relaxed attitude to life. While I generally find this attitude positive, I have to say that in regards to health and safety it can be a real problem.

Let us have a look at the explosion at Pike River coalmine as one of the most terrifying examples of what may happen when we combine our 'she'll be right' on one side and management preoccupation with 'getting the figures' on the other. Appendix A

The disaster at the Pike River has prompted us to consider more generally how New Zealanders view safety and what could be done to promote a higher level of safety culture. Peter Bateman put forward one definition of organisational safety culture as "what we do when no one is looking". 11.

He takes a good look at "what actually happens on the ground when the boss or safety manager isn't around "…"after all the rules and systems are in place, and everyone is fully trained to do a job safely" .

The tragedy at Pike River produced a heated discussion of health and safety issues in New Zealand. The general opinion was that our view of safety is shaped on the one hand by the risk-taking spirit, and also - perhaps paradoxically - by the 24-hour, no-fault accident compensation scheme. The conclusion was that the focus on health and safety has gone off the boil in recent years, and that health and safety practitioners have to improve their performance.

While I cannot possibly disagree with the above conclusion, I would like to accentuate another aspect of the situation and suggest that while we are focusing our attention on safety systems we are sadly overlooking the need for people at all levels to be engaged. The situation calls for improvement both from the top of the pyramid and from the bottom.

The Pike River's explosion brought to the surface the "dysfunctional" culture of the company. While the management was concerned with "achieving target meters and tonnages", the workers were putting themselves at risk demonstrating a mixture of ignorance and cavalier attitude towards danger. 12

I do not suggest that every company in New Zealand has the same situation in regards to HS. There are companies where management is very strict about following health and safety procedures but this does not automatically imply that employees in such a company have a mature attitude towards HS nor that there are no accidents or other occupational health and safety hazards. At the end of the day, like in any other area of improvement, it is all about employees' engagement. The Health and Safety regulations can be strictly enforced but this does not necessarily mean involvement.

Every leader must remember when initiating a change: people support what they create. If we want to see that New Zealand becomes a country where Health and Safety in the workplace is a real value, we need to change the safety culture in every organization, starting from the top and the bottom of the organization simultaneously. The management has to pay more than the lip service to their 'commitment to safety' and the team leaders have to recognize their role in shaping new team culture and lead by example, so that their people have the ability to make safe decisions by themselves.


The purpose of this report is not to provide the panacea for the discussed problem. The focus here is on the change of personal attitude towards health and safety issues. There are many ways of approaching this task, and none of them should be ignored.

It is very important that the management takes responsibility for the safety of employees and it is also important that they understand the crucial role of the employees' engagement. I however would like to draw our attention to the link between the management and the employee at the base of the pyramid presented above. We need to learn to utilize the power of team culture in shaping personal behavior. Dysfunctional norms regarding health and safety issues can be approached through the team building activities.

Like in any other area, it is true that fear of punishment is not nearly as powerful motivation as a well-deserved reward. Another psychological factor to consider: focus on the desired outcome greatly improves the chance of such an outcome. Combining these two understandings and the principles of inspired leadership a good team leader should be able to make a real difference in regards to safety culture in the work place.

In order to succeed this approach must be integrated into every important element of HS policy.


Whenever possible we need to aim to make it entertaining as well as informative. The language of HS manuals needs to be more 'user-friendly'. An application of humor in both written and visual HS materials can make a real difference. Techniques like 'Stupid Hour' also could be used very effectively.


We need to encourage team learning. Once again, we need to aim to make it fun. We can involve outside help for that initially. Eventually, however, we should aim to utilize the unique skills, talents and special interests of everyone in the team and give everyone an opportunity to coach others.


We need to introduce a friendly form of competition in the area of Health and Safety. It is more effective to run the competition between different teams or even companies rather than individuals. It can also involve families and community. Not only will this bring an improvement in HS but strengthen the team.

Recognition and rewards

We need to make an emphasis on rewarding the promotion of safety culture rather than on punishment for not abiding the regulations. Fear of punishment is not the best motivator and it is always accompanied by resentment and unwillingness to co-operate. Winning rewards for the team on the other hand can produce the desired change in attitude towards Health and Safety.

These are recommendations in regards to changing the approach to Health and Safety in the workplace. This report does not include practical suggestions as to the specific techniques. If you are interested in making HS more fun than bother in your company I would recommend 'The A to Z Book of BRIGHT IDEAS For Promoting Safety and Health in Your Place of Work'. There are some very innovative and very adaptable ideas that can be used in any New Zealand company. "There are ideas here that can be adopted - or adapted - by companies or organisations of any size. Believing as we do in Kiwi ingenuity, there's an emphasis throughout on DIY and drawing on the creative talents and skills of everyone in the place of work." 13


The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 has been an important step in New Zealand legislation. It represents the government concern for the wellbeing of New Zealanders. Yet for the law to actually have a noticeable effect there has to be a change of mentality regarding health and safety in the workplace. This change has to happen on all levels of the pyramid. This topic is well researched. There are some very effective tools available for senior management which can help to develop Health and Safety Strategy. I suggest that we now need to close the gap between 'knowing' and 'doing' and the best way of approaching this process is through the team building mechanism.

As I see it, the reason for the inadequate improvement in the area of health and safety in New Zealand is in the simple fact: People do not follow even the best systems unless they want to do so. If we hope to make a real difference we should place more emphasis on inspired leadership in this area which would promote a real change in the safety culture and enable personal responsibility for individual behavior through the team-building activity.

Apendix A

The risk culture at Pike River Mine

By Rebecca MacfieRebecca Macfie| New Zealand Listener. Published on March 10, 2012 | Issue 3748

The commission of inquiry into the Pike explosion has uncovered a company that was deaf and blind to its own failings.

Some saw the signs of looming disaster, said their piece, then left. Albert Houlden, a former leading hand with Pike's biggest subcontractor, McConnell Dowell, and a man steeped in the traditions of British coalfields, worried about poor supervision, the lack of teamwork underground and the inexperience of men pressed into tasks beyond their training. He made complaints about various incidents, and left in April 2010 after six months, telling his wife, "That mine is going to go."

Underground supervisors were reporting that contraband items such as lighters, cellphones and non-regulation watches - all capable of producing enough ignition to react with explosive methane - were being taken into the mine. But exactly where that information wound up is unclear. One who did not receive it, despite his responsibility for implementing safe procedures at Pike, was health and safety manager Neville Rockhouse. Until the explosion that took the life of one of his three sons, Ben, and nearly claimed another, Daniel, Rockhouse believed "we did things good" at Pike. But no one had been telling him about gas spikes, sparking machinery, workers bypassing machine-mounted gas detectors, or incidents such as when a spot search of a group of miners was carried out and two-thirds were found to be carrying contraband.

Rockhouse was so busy writing operating procedures and management plans - most of them never signed off by the relevant departmental managers - that he rarely had time to go underground to see for himself what was going on. As he told the inquiry, "You can't manage what you don't know." Sometimes dire warnings were acted on, but only partially. When senior miner Brian Wishart wrote an email in April 2010, listing major failings in Pike's system of draining methane from the coalface, he closed with an ominous reference to the recent explosion at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine, which had killed 29 men. "History has shown us in the mining industry that methane, when given the [right] environment, will show us no mercy."

Up and down the line, people operated under dangerous assumptions. When asked about the disconnection of the critical methane sensor near the hydro-mining area, monitoring engineer Daniel du Preez told investigators he was new to coal mining and had assumed "management is there and they decide it's fine, then it's fine probably [sic]".

There was no integrated management information system that would have automatically drawn his attention to glaring problems

The board of directors - none of whom had any experience in underground coal mining - assumed if there were any serious safety concerns the company's managers would let them know. Chairman John Dow spoke of the "church and state" separation between governance and management; it wasn't for the board to be poking around in operational detail.