17 Aug 2022

WorkSafe unclear on its role, failing to intervene in key areas, report finds

12:47 pm on 17 August 2022

WorkSafe lacks a clear strategy and it cannot say if its activities are cost effective or reducing workplace harm, an independent review has found.

Semi Truck Speeding on a Highway.

One area WorkSafe was failing was addressing driver fatigue in the road freight industry, the report says. Photo: 123RF

The review completed by consultants SageBush in May and released yesterday, was commissioned by Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood in 2021 after WorkSafe complained it was inadequately funded to carry out all its regulatory responsibilities.

It also warned the minister its lack of funding meant it had to make the "uncomfortable and difficult" decision to focus less on adventure activities regulation in favour of other high harm sectors such as forestry and manufacturing.

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WorkSafe has already told the government its lack of funding means it can't pay much attention to adventure activities. (File pic) Photo: YouTube / AJ Hackett

SageBush was unable to confirm whether the "resourcing gaps" WorkSafe claimed to have were accurate because it could not provide evidence due to a lack of data and analysis, its report said.

WorkSafe also lacked a clear strategy and was unable to "clearly describe its role", the report found.

"We were provided with numerous documents which lacked clarity, presented different information and in some cases required piecing together to develop the overall picture.

"It is unclear how WorkSafe supports the delivery of government priorities," it noted.

The report, which made 20 recommendations to improve WorkSafe's effectiveness, did not find any regulatory failures, but warned there were risks in its approach.

"In the course of this review we noted some instances of known harm where WorkSafe appears to be taking little or no intervention action."

This included WorkSafe's response to fatigue in the road transport freight industry, it said.

"Given the current lack of agreement over roles and responsibilities of government transport-related agencies, as the regulator and system leader WorkSafe should be intervening as a matter of urgency. This could include conducting a targeted complex intervention in fatigue in the road transport freight industry."

Two other "risk" areas that needed to be urgently addressed were keeping WorkSafe's "regulatory tool and legislative instruments" up to date; and increasing the number of staff who processed authorisations, such as safety permits, codes of compliance and licences.

"Out-of-date regulatory tools and legislative instruments represent a risk to the effectiveness of the health and safety system. WorkSafe should be funded on a sustainable and ongoing basis to maintain its 'regulatory real estate'."

A December 2020 internal review found there were not enough staff to process authorisations in a timely manner.

"Progress to mitigate this risk is slow. WorkSafe should reallocate its resources to address known high priority areas rather than waiting for Budget bids to provide the required funding."

It also questioned WorkSafe's approach of targeting boards and investors who put pressure on employees to cut health and safety corners over those who were actually involved in the operation of the company.

"It is not clear from either a strategic resource allocation or outcomes perspective the extent to which this is an effective use of time and resources."

WorkSafe also did not have a clear way to assess the value of its activities or guide where it allocated resources, despite reviews in 2016 and 2019 highlighting these issues and recommending they be addressed.

"These recommendations do not appear to have been implemented."

It estimated WorkSafe's budget may need to increase by $200 million to cope with rising cost pressures over the next 10 years, but without a clear cost-benefit analysis of its activities and outcomes it was difficult to know whether this could be funded internally or would require more government funding.

It also recommended WorkSafe review its corporate function, wage rates and spending on consultants and contractors, which had all increased in recent years.

WorkSafe responds

WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes

Phil Parkes Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

In response included in the report, WorkSafe acknowledged it needed more investment in evaluation of its "regulatory effectiveness".

On the lack of clear strategy, it acknowledged it had "more work to do to tell our story to stakeholders and advance our people's understanding of our strategy and direction", and that it was working to strengthen its "strategic finance capability".

In a statement to RNZ, WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes said all 20 recommendations will be implemented.

"External reviews are a useful way of getting an independent view of how we're doing and identify areas for improvement.

"We note the review found no significant issues with the way we undertake our regulatory role and confirmed that appropriate regulatory systems and processes are in place to deliver our core regulatory functions."

Minister Wood did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

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