10 Jun 2024

Business leaders slam 'disgraceful' lack of workplace health and safety

11:47 am on 10 June 2024
Close-up helmet in the construction site

The 'Been There. Done That' report was led by an independent taskforce made up of senior chief executives and directors. Photo: 123RF

A damning report by senior business leaders says New Zealand's history of health and safety failings and poor progress is "disgraceful", and calls for better regulation and enforcement.

The 'Been There. Done That' report (on the cover, the second clause is crossed out) into New Zealand's repeated health and safety failures was led by an independent taskforce made up of senior chief executives and directors, set up by the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum in late 2023.

It came after the 'State of a Thriving Nation' report in August, which highlighted the $4.4 billion cost to New Zealand from poor health and safety performance and progress in 2022 alone.

Forum chief executive Francois Barton said the group of seven experienced leaders was brought together to understand the key issues and map out a path to improve, drawing on interviews with 50 business leaders and stakeholders, a survey of hundreds more, as well as regulatory analysis.

Nearly all of them said they wanted the government to prioritise improving the country's health and safety performance.

"New Zealand's ongoing failure to learn and improve safety and health at work is disgraceful," the report reads. "A worker is almost twice as likely to be killed at work in New Zealand than if they were working in Australia. Our businesses also need more support from government in order to reduce the burden of unclear direction and guidance."

It called out the stalled progress from government, with no action plan or work underway of the 2018-2028 Health and Safety Strategy six years on from its launch.

Z Energy CEO, Mike Bennetts.

Mike Bennetts. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Barton said the overriding conclusion was that many solutions identified as having worked elsewhere had not been implemented.

"The law is fine, but we need good regulations and guidance so that businesses understand what's expected of them, we need the rules applied fairly and consistently by a sufficiently resourced regulator, and we need government agencies... to coordinate, and pull together."

Former Z Energy chief executive and taskforce member Mike Bennetts agreed, saying businesses needed clarity from the regulator and an engaged and collaborative approach from the government.

The report outlined five key recommendations, which the taskforce believed could be done within six months:

  • Rewrite and relaunch the 2018-2028 Health and Safety Strategy, including both implementing comprehensive governance and a three-year action plan to capture and ensure progress, including the next two recommendations below.
  • Review and implement priority regulatory changes to ensure the most appropriate mix of regulations, codes and guidance to clearly specify business' accountabilities and expectations.
  • Apply the rules clearly and fairly and oversee them expertly to ensure poor or negligent business practices are consistently held to account, and leading performance is incentivised.
  • Establish an independent oversight function for safety strategy, incorporating a small group of industry leaders to ensure progress and momentum for improving New Zealand's health and safety performance.
  • Establish and maintain a coherent, credible and current body of government and industry data and insights to inform and focus WorkSafe NZ and business health and safety efforts.

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