Sharpening the H&S focus: managing workplace risk

This article first appeared in Contractor Perspectives 2017.

Health and safety should be a core part of any business and not something you do once and file away on a shelf – it needs to be part of a daily routine. Vadim Spice, sector leader construction, WorkSafe New Zealand.

AROUND ABOUT THE time the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force you might have thought that it would just about ban everything. Kids would have to stop climbing trees and even coat hooks would fall foul of the law. Guess what? It wasn’t true.

The new law is not about banning everything and removing all risk at any cost. It’s about identifying risks and doing what is sensible to manage those risks.

As you may well know, good health and safety should be a core part of any business. It’s not something you do once and file away on a shelf – it needs to be part of your daily routine. It’s about getting the basics right: showing leadership, talking and listening to workers, identifying risks, and ensuring effective and proportionate controls are in place and being used day-in, day-out.

Any law change naturally creates some uncertainty, but health and safety doesn’t need to be complicated. For most businesses it’s pretty straightforward. The requirement to take practicable steps to manage workplace risks has been in place for 25 years. The Health and Safety at Work Act just sharpens the focus on ensuring that those who are in the best position to manage workplace risks are responsible for doing so.

That means it’s not just up to managers and supervisors. Under the new law everyone from directors down to the casual labourer has a role to play in keeping our workplaces healthy and safe.

And where there’s more than one business working at a site they need to talk to each other and agree on sensible health and safety measures. These measures should be based on the level of risk and who is best placed to manage that risk.

WorkSafe is finding that most businesses are getting it right. A lot of effort is going into finding innovative ways of communicating with workers and involving others on site, from health and safety-focused apps, to junior team members running pre-start meetings. Site inductions are becoming far more interactive, with subcontractors taking the time to talk with others on site before starting work.

The tired old hazard board that is usually days out of date and shows no real assessment of the best way to manage risks, is being replaced with bolder, clearer and realistic measures noted from actual team meetings. This is all evidence that workers are actively looking at the risks, reviewing them, coming up with more appropriate controls and clearly communicating this to others.

Critics of the new law would have you believe that you’re somehow expected to eliminate all risks. That’s not possible and is certainly not what WorkSafe expects. For us, it is business as usual – encouraging good practice and helping businesses implement a risk management approach.

Anecdotally, positive stories about the new Act are far outweighing the bad ones – it’s clear that people are recognising that everyone has a role to play in keeping each other healthy and safe at work.

We urge you not to get distracted by the myth-spinners and the inaccuracies. If you need reliable information, WorkSafe has helpful resources targeted at your industry here:

We have also got some excellent examples of businesses that are passionate about health and safety, and want to share their approach to risk management. Have a read here:

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