Has the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 made workplaces in New Zealand safer?

The Health and Safety at Work Act - Health & Safety lone worker policy construction

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and has it been effective in improving health and safety in New Zealand?

The Health and Safety at Work act 2015 (HSWA) came into effect on 4th April 2016 and is the overarching health and safety legislation in New Zealand. It is largely based on Australian health and safety law but with changes to reflect the differences between the two countries’ working environments. 

In 2013, the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety reported that New Zealand’s work health and safety system was failing. As a result, New Zealand underwent its most significant workplace health and safety reforms in 20 years, resulting in the HSWA 2015 and the formation of WorkSafe New Zealand.

So, have the reforms made a difference to health and safety in New Zealand and is legislation alone enough to improve safety in the workplace? 

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 – has it made a difference?

A survey conducted by Safeguard Magazine, has provided some insight into the changes the legislation has driven and the areas that still need addressing. The ‘State of the Nation’ survey, which has been running for the past four years, gives insight into the health and safety practices of businesses in New Zealand. 

So, four years after the HSWA came into force – has it made workplaces in New Zealand safer?

Unfortunately, this years’ survey showed a negative trend in many areas. While 75.9% of respondents believe that NZ health and safety performance is improving, this is a fall from 2018, and is the lowest value for this question of any of the four surveys to date.

Other key findings included:

  • 77.5% of respondents believe safety is taken seriously in New Zealand, compared to 79.6% the previous year.
  • 64% said risks were being discussed with other businesses sharing a work site, down from 67.3% in 2018 
  • Positively, 92.5% recognised that an organisation that manages health and safety well is more likely to be successful
  • However, just 43.6% view H&S as an opportunity to improve, not just comply. 

These results show that overall, health and safety in New Zealand has taken a dip in several areas over the past year, after initially improving after the introduction of the Health and Safety Act (2015). This may be due to the ‘boost’ of activity after the initial launch in 2016 now waning as the fanfare about the legislation dies down.

In particular, it is worrying that 55.2% of respondents do not have confidence that no one would be harmed in their workplace. Not only does this indicate that employees lack confidence in their organisations health and safety policies, but this worry could affect employee health and productivity at work.

Legislation is not enough to ensure employees are kept safe

Clearly, legislative changes are not enough to ensure sustained improvements to health and safety, beyond basic compliance. 

It is apparent that the health and safety issues facing businesses in New Zealand after the HSWA legislation launched in 2016 are still relevant today. In the 2017 survey, conducted one year after the legislation launched, many of the respondents still referred to a negative attitude by businesses towards health and safety at work. Some felt it was considered a ‘burden’ while there was an overwhelming feeling of businesses doing the bare minimum in order to comply. The situation seems very similar today. Some of the comments received in the initial survey included;

[Health and safety is] now taken seriously as a compliance risk, but only seeking legal compliance is about being as bad as the law will allow you to be”.

“Unfortunately many health and safety consultants perpetuate negative attitudes by offering generic documentation and taking a compliance-first approach”.

A lot of persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) noted the legislation change and just asked: what are the new compliance rules? They literally just changed their tick-sheets”.

Most of my clients are more concerned with compliance than actually preventing bad things happening”.

Developing a safety culture in the workplace

What this latest survey shows is that legislation is not enough to fundamentally change attitudes to health and safety in the workplace. Businesses need to turn around their ‘tick-box’ mentality – but how?

Focusing on the wellbeing of employees because you really care about them will transform the workplace for the better, and not just in terms of health and safety. Happy, healthy employees will also be more productive, more motivated and more committed to achieving company goals.

Read our blog on transforming safety culture through leadership

It is also important to remember all employees when considering health and safety at work. Remote and lone workers [links to lone worker app] are sometimes overlooked particularly in regards to employee wellbeing. However, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 takes all employees into account, from office-based and field staff to lone workers and even contractors and volunteers.

Learn more about health and safety legislation in New Zealand 

Safety at work is not only important to comply with legislation but it is good for business. A safe work environment will create secure, productive employees, reduce sick days and avoid the costs associated with accidents and incidents.

The StaySafe app can help you to foster a positive safety culture in the workplace, as well as ensuring that workers are kept safe whilst they work. Comprising an app and a cloud-based hub, StaySafe keeps the lines of communication open with lone working employees, gives accurate visibility of their location and enables staff to signal quickly for help in an emergency. 

Find out more about why organisations choose StaySafe to protect their staff.



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