From Hammer to Hand: The Shift in Health and Safety Culture at Work in NZ

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, (HSWA), primed a culture shift from monitoring hazards at work to managing risks. Now the act has been tested in court, what have we learned about protecting people to a reasonable level?

Failing to protect people in the workplace is costly

In Palmerston North, WorkSafe NZ prosecuted a manufacturing firm whose employee lost most of his left hand at work. Under the old act, this offence would have attracted a $30,000 fine. Under the new act, WorkSafe asked for $900,000.

The court found some evidence of a health and safety culture at the firm, though it wasn't strong enough to protect the worker. A fine of $900,000 would have put the firm out of business and many people out of work. So the court imposed a lesser fine of $100,000 plus $37,500 in reparation for the victim.

What can we take from this ruling? The HSWA has sharp financial teeth. But the ruling also exposed expectations about workplace culture.

Martin Laurs, Health and Safety Trainer at Business Central, says the shift in workplace culture has been from the hammer to the hand.

Health and safety at work is all about behaviour

The old Act focused on monitoring hazards which were often thought of as concrete things - like hammers. Clearly you can't set aside your tools. The new legislation emphasises 'risk.' The risk isn't the hammer - it's the way it's used. It's all about behaviour.

Focusing on behaviour puts the power back in the hands of people doing the work.

People working in the business are experts in workplace risks

Laurs says, 'Nobody knows a job better than the people doing it. We're not going to tell you to take no risks. Rather take a calculated risk. That's what you'd do for any business decision.'

The HSWA encourages everyone participating in a business to take responsibility for their health and safety.

Training in health and safety at work is an investment

Sharing the responsibility for workplace risks by training your staff makes business sense. People are an asset. Neglecting health and safety isn't worth the financial, legal or reputational risks. If you have less than 20 employees, then you don't have to have a health and safety rep or committee. But can you afford not to share the responsibility to keep your workplace safe? The law would say no.

Make sure your business has the training it needs, book one of Business Central’s Health and Safety courses today.

Contact: Martin Laurs and the Business Central Team

Email: training@businesscentral.org.nz