16 Jun 2014

Companies feel health and safety heat

9:03 am on 16 June 2014

A leader in workplace safety says that pressure is mounting for company chief executives and directors to face fines of up to $3 million if they fail to keep safe any contractors working for them.

The Health and Safety Reform Bill, now going through Parliament, will make company heads responsible if there is an accident at their site, whether it involves their own employees or contractors.

Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum spokesperson George Adams said this was a major change to existing legislation and could involve fines of up to $3 million.

A memorial at Blackball to the Pike River miners, where the 29 dead included contractors.

A memorial at Blackball to the Pike River miners, where the 29 dead included contractors. Photo: SUPPLIED

The Health and Safety Reform Bill rejigs the national workplace health and safety system, following the work of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety and the Royal Commission on the Pike River coal mine tragedy.

On 16 June, the forum and the Institute of Directors launched a contractor inititative designed to help companies improve their safety performance.

Seventy-five New Zealanders are killed at work each year, and many are contractors, particularly in construction and forestry.

The forum's director, Julian Hughes, said safety initiatives only worked if company bosses led them and there were measureable targets.

And Z Energy chief executive Mike Bennetts, a key figure in the ZeroHarm campaign, said that companies must go beyond compliance if New Zealand is to reduce its appalling accident rate.

Even though the Health and Safety Reform Bill would make bosses and directors responsible for workplace accidents, that was not enough to lower the human toll.

Mr Bennetts said leaders must ensure safety permeated right through a company's culture, from top management to distant contractors.