New safety rules hit school funds

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 13/03/2014

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Schools that raise funds cleaning up after Hurricanes games or the Martinborough Fair may miss out under new health and safety reforms.

The Government's Health and Safety Reform Bill, set for its first reading today, restricts how much liability councils and community organisations can pass off to contractors. That could put an end to schools' fundraising opportunities, South Wairarapa District Council was told yesterday.

Council officers and councillors could be held personally responsible for any health and safety breaches and it was therefore important to create a "letter trail" showing the law had been followed, chief executive Paul Crimp said.

It amounted to a "significant change in direction", putting more liability on organisations and anyone working for them, and councillors should not underestimate the impact of the changes, he said.

Councillor Colin Olds voiced concerns that fundraising by small groups and schools could become an unintended casualty of the bill. "It's a Kiwi way of doing things, and it may be a thing of the past."

Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons said schools and councils had been co-operating to "keep New Zealand green" for decades, and it would be a shame if over-zealous legislation got in the way.

"Councils are concerned about their liability and everybody's responsible for each other, but not to the extent that . . . schools that are already strapped for cash have a traditional fundraiser removed from them," he said.

South Wairarapa Rotary Club runs Martinborough Fair and, for about 30 years, had made a donation to a Kuranui College hockey team to help with the post-fair clean-up, club president John Bushell said.

He hoped the bill would not derail the arrangement, and the fair would revise its health and safety plan if necessary. "This bloody PC world we live in, I'm surprised we can even get out of bed in it."

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the bill, which could become law before the end of the year, would not stop schools fundraising by cleaning up after events if the organisations that contracted them were meeting their duties under the current legislation.

"Everyone has a right to be safe at work, including volunteers. The Health and Safety Reform Bill simply continues the coverage already given to volunteers under the existing Health and Safety in Employment Act."

Organisations contracting schools did not have to guarantee that no harm would occur, but had to do what was reasonably able to be done to ensure health and safety, he said.

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A spokesperson for the new health and safety regulator WorkSafe NZ said it would not be appropriate to comment.

- The Dominion Post

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