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Choosing the right health and safety advisor

The new Act is part of a reform package that aims to reduce work-related illness, injury and fatality figures by at least 25 per cent by 2020. That’s a big ask and everyone has a part to play. In particular, organisations (businesses and undertakings) will have the primary duty of care to ensure the safety of their workers and anyone affected by their work. There are also clear health and safety duties for those in governance roles.
 
Because we are dealing with new legislation there is a lot of uncertainty and some details are still to be determined. We know this creates a bit of an information vacuum. While getting external expert advice can be a useful step to take, there are a number of things you can do yourself to ensure you are ready for the new legislation.
 
Take a good hard look at yourself
Before rushing into a lot of expense, this is a great opportunity to review your organisation’s health and safety practices and, if needed, revise how you manage critical risks that could cause illness, injury or even death. If you are already taking a considered approach then little will need to change.
 
Here’s some first steps.
• Leaders – step up and be accountable. Under the new law company officers (directors, board members, chief executives, partners etc) are responsible for due diligence. They do not have to ensure the health and safety of the workers but do have to make sure their organisation complies with its obligations. This means always having current knowledge of work health and safety matters; knowing the nature of your organisation’s operations and the associated risks; and assessing the resources and processes to manage those risks. Just as your finances and resourcing are standing agenda items, health and safety should be treated as a fundamental part of running a business.
• Identify and manage your risks. There is a myth that an organisation, and its officers, must eliminate all risks. They can’t. The nature of any work is that there will always be risks; what’s important is that they can be managed and minimised. First, they must be identified. Remember to assess both health and safety risks.
• Make health and safety a part of your organisation’s culture. The question is no longer “Do I have a liability?”, but “How can I improve health and safety?”  Get all staff thinking this way…
• … and get them involved – not just because it’s the law but because they can help you and they also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own and their colleagues’ health and safety. The Act focuses our attention on how we work more than where we work and the people doing the work are best placed to identify the risks. 
Visit the WorkSafe website (www.worksafe.govt.nz) for more information on the Act and what you can do now to get up to speed. 
 
Enlisting expert help
You may still feel that your organisation needs extra help. Specialist health and safety advisors can be useful, especially if the risks you need to manage are detailed and technical. So how do you choose the right person for the job? The Health and Safety Association of New Zealand (HASANZ) has put together a checklist of five quick questions to ask potential advisors:
• Which professional association do you belong to? (Ask if they can confirm their membership.)
• What qualifications and/or certification do you have? (Ask to see a current practising certificate from the relevant association, or similar proof of competence.)
• What relevant skills and experience do you have for this job? (If your business deals with hazardous substances, for example, you’ll need an advisor skilled in this area.)
• Can you give me examples of similar work you have done recently?
• May I contact your clients to ask about your work for them?
 
Beware of consultants selling services based on fear. Scaremongering and myths can distract from the realities of the Act and the constructive ways that people can improve health and safety at work. If you’re hearing that you are liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars and/or imprisonment if you don’t get it right and ‘here is a system that will fix that for you’ then it’s wise to question the legitimacy and motivation of the source. 
 
Other useful information can be found at the HASANZ website (www.hasanz.org.nz). HASANZ is the national umbrella organisation for workplace health and safety professions and aims to raise the standard of advice and services provided across the sector. Its website has a full list of member associations and how they can help businesses. It is also developing a national online register of competent workplace health and safety professionals, due to be launched in 2016.
 
We’re working alongside you
If you believe some of the stories you hear, health and safety is all about stopping any activity that might possibly lead to harm. This is not WorkSafe’s vision of sensible health and safety – we want to save lives, not stop them.  In fact, our over-riding focus is to embed good workplace health and safety culture and best practice in New Zealand. To do that we will join forces with organisations and workers to educate them about their responsibilities and engage them in making changes that reduce the chances of harm. WorkSafe will of course enforce the law, where it has to, for those who fail in their duties but we will be proportionate and fair. Prosecution is seen as a last resort not a first step and is not a decision taken lightly.
 
What happens next? 
WorkSafe will work with businesses, industry bodies and other regulatory organisations to provide ongoing information and guidance to help get people up to speed before the Act comes into force on 4 April 2016. Formal guidance, as a result of regulations, will be issued in early 2016. Keep informed by visiting www.worksafe.govt.nz and sign up to the Health and Safety at Work Act subscriber updates.
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