Labour doubts WorkSafe's independence

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 08:28 16/12/2013

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WorkSafe New Zealand - a new Government regulator born out of the Pike River Mine disaster - comes into effect today, but the opposition is already questioning its credibility.

The regulatory body will have the power to inspect workplaces, issue infringement notices without warning and prosecute if safety standards are not up to scratch.

It was part of a major health and safety package announced by the Government in August, which also included harsher penalties for conduct which exposed people to risk of death or injury in the workplace.

WorkSafe takes on the responsibilities from the former Health and Safety group in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said it ushered in a "new era" of work place safety.

"Too many people are killed or seriously injured in our workplaces and the injury rate must come down.

"WorkSafe NZ has high targets and will work with other Government agencies, businesses, and workers to reduce the fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses caused in the workplace," said Mr Bridges.

It aims to reduce workplace deaths by a quarter by 2020.

But Labour MP Andrew Little said in the wake of last week's decision to drop charges against former Pike River Mine boss Peter Whittall, the agency would have to tread carefully.

"It was never viable to have a division whose job is to enforce the law against business and regulate their activities inside MBIE, a ministry whose objectives are to promote business; the two are totally contradictory," he said.

"Nothing less than an organisation with dedicated staff and singularly-focused leadership will do to reduce our shameful record on health and safety."

Last year 40 people were killed in workplace-related accidents - down from 45 in 2011 and 77 the year before.

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