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HomeFEATURESFirst, do no harm: Navigating health and safety regulations

First, do no harm: Navigating health and safety regulations

Ryan Clark, national manager liability for NZI

Keeping yourself covered

This year the statutory liability, employers’ liability and directors’ liability cover will become more important than ever as the changes to the Act come into effect, says Ryan Clark, national manager liability for NZI.

“Both businesses and people in managerial positions will be held accountable and responsible for their actions and non-actions in providing a safe work environment for their staff.

“With this in mind, careful consideration should be given to transferring the potential financial risk of defending an allegation or investigation away from the company’s balance sheet, by having the right kinds of insurance policies. Defending a prosecution for a workplace injury can be expensive and time consuming and has the potential to affect the ongoing viability of a business.”

Clark says that NZI’s statutory liability policy provides cover for a company and its directors and employees. If someone is self-employed, a sole trader, or operates a business as a partnership, then the policy will also cover their employees.

Responses from the sector

As the impending legislation changes reached the radar of governance groups late last year, Chris Wilkinson, managing director at First Retail Group, has been observing some shifts in retail sector’s approach to health and safety.

The mandate of boards is transforming, from the traditionally strategic and non-operational body, to one that must understand what the business they govern does. It’s now not enough just to be a name on a board – there has to be a depth of understanding about the business and across the sector.

“In a retail context health and safety has always been prioritised,” he says. “However, the new legislation has seen many businesses want to rebuild their strategies, and look to external assurance as a further way to ensure they meet or exceed the new laws.”

Some trends Wilkinson has noticed are:

  • Fresh eyes. There is a demand by boards for extra levels of scrutiny and external assurance that their company is proactively managing risk.
  • Rewriting past practices. There is a need to cross some previously-established thresholds (from governance to operational) in understanding and questioning practices across the businesses.
  • No fudge factor. Mechanisms are being put in place to immediately suspend operations should risk appear at any stage.
  • Scrutiny. Health and safety is achieving a greater priority and focus in board risk registers, reporting and accountability.
  • Awareness. Board members are familiarising themselves with all aspects of business, not just the top-line or public-facing elements.
  • Empowerment. New mechanisms are being introduced to let employees alert decision makers to risk, without reproach, or through confidential, third-party channels.

In the past, the personal responsibilities of the smaller retailer often centred around financial guarantees with the bank and landlord. But not now, says Wilkinson.

“Now you have a guarantee on your people, and you can’t insure out of it, which has been the case before.”

Awareness is the key thing, he says, with conversations about health and safety now being part of the weekly meetings for managers. There is also the introduction of a culture where everyone has some degree of responsibility for health and safety, which Wilkinson says is really important.

He expects to see landlords taking more of an interest in what is going on with their tenants, with a lot more questions and interventions put to the businesses on their sites.

There is also a heightened awareness regarding tradespeople who enter a retail premise to perform a task. Plumbers, electricians, suppliers and others who enter a retail site are now the responsibility of the PCBU. The result, says Wilkinson, will be things like terms and conditions of site entry on the outside of entrances to warehouses and stores, with the understanding that a person will abide by these while they are on the premises.

One of the biggest dangers in retail is complacency, says Wilkinson, especially in those retail areas that are considered to be at a lower risk of causing harm. “Familiarity breeds contempt, and for those retailers who think they don’t need to worry about health and safety – well, in fact, you do.” 

Alistair Penny, head of property and asset management at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL)

Were all in this together

As managers of property, the focus on health and safety now requires collaboration, communication, and engagement from everyone involved, says Alistair Penny, head of property and asset management at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).

JLL is finding that clients now want to be – and need to be – more informed about health and safety matters, with far more detailed reports and updates than before.

In terms of shopping centre management, Penny says reports to a client need to be accurate – a client can’t be expected to deal with something that they do not know about. However, it’s just as important for the client to make sure that their requests for information are specific.

It’s also about making sure that all the contractors who come onto a site are inducted with a site-specific induction. This includes being talked through the risk register and potential hazards, and being fully up-to-date with health and safety policies of the shopping centre.

Penny says that retailers, who by definition deal in very public spaces, need to be very proactive in implementing health and safety measures. In the shopping centre environment, he recommends retailers tap into the resources of the property management team, and making sure that they are aware of all obligations and responsibilities.

Gathering intelligence prevents crime

Health and safety is about taking all practicable and reasonable steps to mitigate risk and reduce harm. Crimes against retailers have a massive impact on businesses financially, often with a high emotional cost to staff. The unpredictable nature of theft and robbery means that retailers need to have policies and procedures in place so if an event does unfold, the safety of staff and customers is preserved.

Being able to manage and de-escalate a crime as it happens is key to ensuring the safety of everyone involved, says Bruce McKinnon, head of retail at Auror.

Rather than go into a situation with guns blazing, confrontation can be avoided when retailers have systems in place. For example, using software such as Auror enables retailers to log in online and report a theft in under 10 minutes, alerting local police and allowing direct reporting to the police crime reporting line. The need to confront a suspect is removed, as staff know that there is a process in place to record all details and notify police.

McKinnon says that recording crime intelligence helps police and retailers understand patterns of crime in individual stores and centres, and also in the wider community.

A partnership with New Zealand Police and Auror has seen the software rolled out across the nation in an effort to solve retail crime. Following pilots with Canterbury and Counties Manukau Police, there have been encouraging results.

Me, myself and I are we safe?

The New Zealand police say a person should think about his or her own safety at all times. In the situation where a retailer believes a theft has occurred, staying a safe distance from the suspect is a good idea, while also ensuring that, where possible, another staff member is there to assist.

While the thrill of a chase may be enticing, it’s no surprise the police do not recommend this kind of pursuit. They say it is better to let the suspect go, than risk being assaulted. If it is considered safe to follow the suspect from a distance, only do so if you are able to advise another staff member to call the police, remember to take a phone with you to call 111 yourself, and note a clear description of the suspect.

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