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Employment Relations

Mallik Gadipudi

This research essay in its first part aims to explain how and why Occupational
Health and Safety is a crucial current issue in Employment Relations in New Zealand, the
Pike River Coal Mine tragedy, following which the Royal Commission has been setup by
the government and the suggestions they made. And the in the second part emphasises
on the latest legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and various regulations
that have been put in place to make sure that the legislation is well supported, along with
few of the regulations that have been announced as a part of its first phase.
Why is Occupational Health and Safety a crucial current issue in ER?
Occupational Health and Safety is told to be a multidisciplinary subject(Taskforce,
2013) which when followed and implemented efficiently, can have significant positive
effect on an organizations employees and their productivity (Lamm, Massey, & Perry,
The OHS issue and the urgency to brings changes to the Health and Safety in
Employment Act 1992 came into limelight in New Zealand due to two main disasters 1.
The infamous Pike River Coal Mine (PRCM) tragedy that happened in November 2010 2.
The Christchurch earthquake. In the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy, 29 miners lost their
lives after being stuck under the rubble caused due to a series of explosions in the mine
area (Commission, 2012a). The government appointed Royal Commission in their report
claimed that very poor health and safety procedures were followed at the mine and the
lack of proper ventilation for methane gas produced during the mining to go out of the
mine is what caused the explosions (Commission, 2012a). As a part of the report, the
commission came up with major reforms that are required to improve the health and
safety standards at workplace; few of the important aspects are A new Legislation As
per the commission, the existing legislation is not applicable to the changing workforce
and also the industries which became highly dependent on machines that were major
causes of workplace fatalities. Hence, a new legislation that would eliminate all such
issues is suggested to be introduced; Change in strategy: accomplishing efficient and
influential strategies for high-hazard industries, that were ignored earlier; Clearer role of
employer and employee in OHS while the HSE Act 1992 places primary responsibility
of health and safety on the employer, a very little focus has been on the training activities

of the employees, this needs an urgent change; A New Regulator Given the poor
performance of Department of Labour in the OHS, the commission suggests to form a
crown entity under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MIBE), the
crown entity is to operate individually and produce reports on the OHS activities across
the industries and work with MIBE in improving the health and safety standards in New
Zealand (Commission, 2012b). Thus the Work Safe NZ was formed by the government in
December 2013 in response to the suggestions made by the Royal Commission and
Independent Taskforce, with main objective being promoting and contributing to
securing the health and safety of the workers in their workplaces (WorkSafeNZ, 2013).
Apart from being ignorant to basic health and safety elements due to either the
absence or underdevelopment of safety culture (Rasmussen, 2009), New Zealand has a
very poor record in the matter of OHS in workplaces when compared to its OECD
counterparts. And when compared to similar countries like Australia and UK, New
Zealand has twice and six times more number of accidents per every 100,000 employees
(Taskforce, 2013). As per Independent (2013), there are an average of 100 people who
die every year at work, 700-1000 people who die each year due to a work related disease,
23000 people reporting serious injury at work and nearly 200,000 people claiming
medical insurance due to work related injuries. Construction, agriculture and
manufacturing industries account to the most number of victims who are of age 54 years
and above (Securo, 2012). According to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), a
record of an approx. $700 Mn has been claimed by employees for work related injuries in
the financial year 2015-16(ACC, 2016). The main reason why the OHS statistics in New
Zealand are alarmingly high compared to the other OECD member nations is mainly
because the SMEs consists of more number of employees and not much of a focus or
constraints have been put in place to ensure the health and safety regulations would be
followed (VERNON, 2015) and also due to weaker participation from the end of workers
along with the absence of sufficient safety representatives; not sufficient time being
allocated for the existing ones (Taskforce, 2013).
In a research carried out by WorkSafeNZ (2014), many alarming points have been
shed light on with respect to the work place environments, conditions under which the
workers work and other aspects like knowledge of health and safety procedures among

both the employers and employees. And there is quite a significant difference in numbers
when question both parties about the same aspect. Some of them are like:
a. While 57% of employees said that themselves or their colleagues have worked
when they were sick or injured, while the employers said that this applies only
29% of their workers. There is a 26% difference and it is quite possible that
many of the workers injuries might progress and become severe and
eventually become victims.
b. While 41% of the workers said that they risked at work (for example to save
time), the employers said that only 27% of their workers take such risks. At
times the workers are also forced to take risks to cut costs for the employers.
For example, use of ladders when cranes are needed.
c. While 17% of the workers said that they or their colleagues have worked when
they were hungover or stoned, the employers claimed that only 6% of their
workers have done so. While working under the influence of alcohol or any
substance is a strict no, this is often looked over by employers to save man
power and by workers to earn money.
Apart from the few points mentioned above, there are many other factors like training
the workers in health and safety procedures and usage of machinery, incorrect
registration of serious injuries caused in the workplace, personal protective equipment
used in work place and many others that are to be addressed efficiently in-order to
improve the health and safety standards in New Zealand. Even all the above information
is not everything, they do make a few noticeable points which give an insight regarding
why occupational health and safety in workplace has become a crucial current issue in
Employment Relations.

Current attempts to improve OHS in workplace

Following the suggestion made the Royal Commission, the government has
introduced a new legislation, Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 2015 that replaced
the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 with effect from April 2016; and intends
to support businesses in understanding what they need to do in-order to comply with the
duties of the act (WorkSafeNZ, 2016a). This framework of the new legislation, HSWA is
mainly those of the UK and Australia and if observed properly, it can be seen that the

legislation encourages a tri-parte environment government, businesses and employees,

through which it aims to improve the effectiveness of the functioning of the health and
safety system by increasing participation, taking accountability through leadership
(WorkSafeNZ, 2016a). The new legislation aims at decreasing the workplace fatalities by
25% towards the year 2020 through providing small businesses with guidance to
reasonably practicable practices at workplace; providing clear information about how,
when and whom to notify in-case of any incidents at the workplace; providing guidelines
to exposure and health monitoring that is required under the legislation; by imposing
heavy penalties on businesses that dont comply with the legislation, providing
information and training through the Work Safe NZ agency to the managers, officers and
workers at the workplaces and educating the workers on how to identify, assess and
manage work risks. On the whole, it can be said that the legislation covers both the
physical and psychological factors that might affect people in the workplace, how the
business is to be conducted and what parts of it are to controlled by whom (WorkSafeNZ,
Below are few of the many regulations that are a form of attempts to improve and support
the legislation:
1. General Risk and Workplace Management: The PCBUs are entitled to ensure that
the workplace doesnt put any of the workers health or safety at risk
(WorkSafeNZ, 2016a). The PCBU that is in-charge of how the work is carried out
at the workplace should supply the PPE to the workers to minimise and health and
safety risks; the PPEs supplied are well maintained and worn by all the workers
(Legislation, 2016a).
2. Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation: This regulation provides
different kind of possible hazardous industries with different guidelines to be
followed, the ratio of health and safety representatives that are to be presented in
a work group and their duties, how to elect the health and safety representatives,
different kinds of trainings that are to be carried out for health and safety
representatives, officers and workers & the health and safety committees how
they are to be formed and their memberships (Legislation, 2016c).
3. Major Hazard Facilities: Under this regulation, the businesses are informed and
advised on what substances would be considered as hazardous as per the

legislation, what would be higher and lower threshold quantities for the
respective substance, what would be considered as a major incident, what kind of
assessments should be carried out at the workplaces by WorkSafe, conditions
applied for such workplaces etc., (Legislation, 2016b).
As said earlier, this legislation is formed as tri-parte which means that all the parties have
equal responsibilities in keep each other informed about the new regulations, incidents,
ensure participation etc. Unlike the old legislation, HSWA makes the board of directors
and other executive accountable to any incident that occurs in the company and also
ensures that they need to have knowledge of all the new regulations and changes made
to the legislation (WorkSafeNZ, 2016a). As much as the employer is responsible, workers
are also expected to follow all the instructions provided by the employer, wear the PPE
and avoid any kind of incidents at the workplaces by attending the regular training
sessions conducted by WorkSafe agency.
Rasmussen (2009) emphasises that the whole process of bringing down workplace
incidents take a substantial amount of time and is can be achieved only there is proper
understand between all the parties involved. And from the research essay it can observed
that there are several steps to be taken at different levels by different parties, hence inorder to observe the positive impact of the new legislation will need time. With the heavy
penalties in place, the organizations these days have become much more careful about
the workplace procedures and at the same time the workers are more aware of the safety
procedures, thanks to the governments efforts in training them. As the industries evolve
and new lines of work emerge, we can say that the OHS will remain a critical issue for the
employment relations in the country.

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