Managing Risk in the Workplace

Health & Safety legislation has undergone a significant change with the passing of the Health & Safety at Work Act and subsequent regulations made under that Act.

The Health and Safety at Work Act changed the focus from compliance by managing hazards to managing Risk.

Despite our best efforts, fatalities and serious injuries continue to occur, even among organizations with “industry best practice” safety management systems.

We have to move forward and evolve and the development of a risk-based approach to OSH is that evolution. There is an old saying that insanity is doing the same doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

A lack of injuries does not automatically translate to a first-class safety culture and doesn’t necessarily mean the workforce is safe (they may just be lucky).

If safety is to become a core value within a company culture then the safety strategy must be aligned with and support the business strategies, and it is achieved by continuously doing things better and capturing and delivering real value.

There is an increased emphasis on having good safety management programs, which protect employees from injury, in place when tendering for contracts and this requirement will only continue to grow and develop with the due diligence requirements for directors under the new legislation.

The Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016 came into force in February of 2016 and these regulations cover the following:

Part 1 General duties:

  • Risk management process to be followed by PCBU in specified circumstances
  • General workplace facilities
  • First aid
  • Emergency plans
  • Personal protective equipment

Part 2 Management of particular risks:

  • Remote or isolated work
  • Atmospheres with potential for fire or explosion
  • Raised and falling objects
  • Containers of liquids
  • Loose but enclosed materials
  • Substances hazardous to health

Part 3 Duties relating to exposure monitoring and health monitoring:

  • Exposure monitoring
  • Health monitoring

Part 4 Young persons at workplace:

  • These regulations describe the duties and responsibilities for PCBU’s, Officers and Other persons in relation to the above headings.
  • Under these regulations there is a much greater focus on worker health than there was under the previous legislation. It is estimated that there are approximately 600 to 900 deaths each year from workplace exposures that have not been directly attributed to the OSH accident statistics due to the lack of reporting requirements in the past.
  • Construction is one of New Zealand’s biggest industries with almost 200,000 workers – but it’s also one of the four sectors with the worst worker injury rates.
  • Worker fatalities are more than double the average for all other sectors.
  • The cost of workplace injuries is huge – ACC pays more than $100 million dollars per year in the construction sector. And that doesn’t include the cost to businesses in terms of lost productivity.
  • Construction workers risk exposure on a daily basis to potential harmful dusts, fumes and asbestos that can lead to serious ill-health or even an early death.
  • Figures on the Worksafe New Zealand website show that since 2008, an average of 10 workers died on construction sites per year; there were 14,000 serious injuries with more than a week off work; airborne substances have caused 185 deaths and 731 hospitalisations; and there were 3,055 falls from height requiring an average of 236 days off.
  • Worksafe released their ten-year strategic plan (‘Healthy Work’) for work-related health in August 2016 and this document outlines their vision for a New Zealand in which everyone who goes to work comes home not just safe, but healthy too.
  • The management of work-related health risks remains unacceptable. Ten times more people die each year from work-related diseases than work-related safety incidents, and thousands of workers experience ill-health because of their work. Recent reports have highlighted the need for more focus on work-related health and this strategic plan outlines the approach they will take to support and enable this.
  • This strategic plan reflects the emphasis of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 on more proactive leadership and management of work-related health risks.
  • Worksafe New Zealand already has significant activity underway in relation to work related health but despite this, they recognise that there remains a need for significant change in how work-related health risks are addressed, and this strategic plan is an important step in that change. They are confident that this plan, and the activities described within it, will enable them to achieve the aim of a future in which healthy work is the norm.

Extracts from the Strategic Plan:

“WORK-RELATED DISEASE AND ILL-HEALTH

Too many people in New Zealand die or suffer from work-related ill-health and diseases, indicating that work-related health and health-related safety risks need to be managed better. The latest estimates4 are that 600 to 900 people in New Zealand die each year from diseases caused by health risks associated with their work, a figure which has not changed significantly since 19996. In addition, it’s estimated that a further 30,000 workers develop non-fatal work-related ill-health each year, such as noise-induced hearing loss or non-fatal lung diseases. This figure is likely to be an underestimate as much of the work-related harm that occurs is not reported or is not correctly linked back to a person’s work.

EXPOSURES TO WORK-RELATED HEALTH RISKS

Unlike harm from most acute safety incidents, the harm from work-related health risks generally depends on the level of exposure a person has to a hazard (the dose). Understanding exposure levels to various risks is therefore an important measure of potential future ill-health and disease. Reducing exposures to health hazards is the ultimate aim for improved management of work-related health risk.

The level of exposure to various health risks across all types of work remains unacceptably high. Work-related health hazards with high exposure levels include solvents, dust, noise and fumes.

There is a strong case for improving the way that work-related health risks are managed.

Morally, it is unacceptable that several hundred people die each year from largely preventable risks at work. The same is true for the thousands of workers who develop non-fatal work-related ill-health.

Socially, the impact of work-related ill-health includes not only the societal costs of caring for those with poor health caused by their work, but also the impact on families, whānau and communities.

Economically, international evidence shows that addressing preventable health conditions in workers is good for business. Workers who maintain good levels of health are at work more often, report higher levels of productivity, and are more likely to feel engaged with their employer.

We are confident that improved management of work-related health risks would bring multiple benefits to New Zealand.

Our approach to enabling change must be built on strong guiding principles that can be applied across all of our programmes and activities over the coming ten years.

Worksafe’s guiding principles:

We will develop evidence-based interventions through research and intelligence-led analysis.

We will take a high-engagement approach with social partners, key stakeholders, workplaces, agencies and communities.

We will use our levers of educate, engage and enforce transparently and proportionately.

We will proactively consider the perspectives of those we are aiming to support.

We will recognise and focus on groups who are vulnerable to work-related health risks, including Māori and other ethnic groups.

STRATEGIC THEME 1: INDUSTRY LEADERSHIP

We recognise that, to achieve our long-term vision, those who create and interact with work-related health and health-related safety risks are the best placed to identify and manage them effectively. They therefore need to take greater ownership for managing and controlling them. This will require PCBUs and officers to demonstrate sustained, focused and effective leadership on work-related health matters. Workers and HSRs must be empowered to participate in risk management and raise concerns about potential risks.

Similarly, we recognise that social partners and key stakeholders will play an important part in influencing how risks are managed. These include trade unions, business representatives, Government agencies, health professionals and those who design, manufacture, produce or import substances, plant and equipment. The activities within this theme will enable us to influence the Industry leadership necessary for lasting change in how work-related health is addressed.

STRATEGIC THEME 2: REGULATORY EFFECTIVENESS

As the primary regulator for health and safety, we recognise that while we are not directly responsible for how risks are managed, we have an important leadership role to play in the work-related health system. We also recognise the need to continuously improve our approach to work-related health if we are to achieve our long-term vision. Our levers of education, engagement and enforcement are how we develop wider change in the health and safety system; these must be continuously improved to reflect the importance of work-related health. The activities in this strategic theme will enable us to become a continuously improving regulator in the area of work-related health.

STRATEGIC THEME 3: STEP CHANGE

If we are to achieve the significant change needed in overall work-related health performance we need to target our efforts on prioritised risks. We will implement a series of multi-year intervention programmes to address these prioritised risks over the course of this strategic plan. Over time, the cumulative effect of these targeted programmes will be a step change in the overall work-related health capability and performance across the wider health and safety system.”

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