Safety onus on companies

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 05:00 24/06/2014

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Companies hiring contractors face law changes placing the responsibility for contractors' health and safety squarely with them as workplace injuries rise in Canterbury.

Health and safety reforms are currently progressing through Parliament.

Canterbury bosses were last night to be briefed on the accountability of leaders at a project launch by the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum.

The event was hosted by the Institute of Directors whose chief executive William Whittaker said upcoming law changes would see more safety responsibility on chief executives and managing directors.

"Under the forthcoming act, people conducting a business undertaking have a responsibility for contractors."

Now the Canterbury rebuild was underway it was of concern that workplace accidents within the reconstruction appeared to be on the rise, Safety Forum executive director Julian Hughes said.

"There's an increasing number of injuries occurring. Fortunately there haven't been, and I don't know the exact number on this, many serious injuries."

How much of that increase was due to the ramping up of the rebuild was still being looked at by the forum.

Hughes said that under the impending Health and Safety Reform Bill there will be a "clearer" responsibility on the ultimate or top company employing the contractors or contracting firm.

The Pike River coal mine tragedy of 2010 revealed a shortfall in safety regulation in New Zealand.

The forestry industry and Christchurch's rebuild were other sectors where health and safety issues have been highlighted in recent years.

In the case of Pike, 13 of the 29 miners killed in a series of explosions were contractors.

Contractors also feature heavily in the 75 or so workers killed each year in dangerous industries.

Even in mid-2010 before the Pike disaster there was clear evidence that "our performance as a nation wasn't good enough" leading to the forum being set up, Hughes said.

Labour Minister Simon Bridges has said the bill would play a major role in meeting the target of reducing New Zealand's workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020.

But Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said so far Christchurch had a good health and safety record in the rebuild, with contractors and businesses having bought into a Canterbury rebuild safety charter.

"This has been a transition from health and safety being . . . an add-on to day to day business activity to now health and safety being mainstreamed into every part of business. That's been a big change," Townsend said.

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WorkSafe director Don Stock said the workplace health and safety regulator and the forum were targeting chief executives to step up and develop safety initiatives with contractors.

WorkSafe and other organisations were looking to replicate the safe building standards of London Olympics venues in Christchurch.

"It's really important that we treat it like [the] London Olympics. [It is a] massive construction project, a massive potential for fatalities and for serious harm injuries. I think this group is out there to make sure that those statistical probabilities don't come true in the rebuild."

Stock said on top of the 75 fatal workplace accidents each year there were another estimated 600-900 people who died from workplace health issues and exposures.

"The biggest one for example is asbestos. Last year we had 150 people die from asbestos exposure."

- The Press

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