National MPs' concerns prompt delay to health and safety law

President of the CTU Helen Kelly says country owes it to Pike River mine victims to have stronger safety laws
ROSS SETFORD/FAIRFAX NZ

President of the CTU Helen Kelly says country owes it to Pike River mine victims to have stronger safety laws

Disquiet among National MPs looks set to delay planned changes to health and safety law, with the Government poised to park the bill in a select committee for two more months to try and iron out contentious issues.

Recommended changes to the law were due to be reported back from the committee this week, Prime Minister John Key said on Monday.

But after National's Tuesday caucus meeting a well-placed source said approval would likely be sought for an extension to the select committee's deliberations.

READ MORE: Health and safety law reform set to be watered down

The draft bill, prompted by the Pike River coal mine tragedy, was already set to be watered down in the face of a possible revolt by back bench Government MPs. That would likely include an exemption for small businesses from some provisions.

Key on Monday said ministers were keen to ensure a balance between safety and workability.

"We want to make sure that on the one hand it lifts the health and safety requirements in the workplace so [it] is safer.

"But ... we also want to make sure it's workable and it isn't overly onerous on small businesses."

He said the Health and Safety Taskforce came up with some good recommendations, but they were "quite far reaching. We just need to think through absolutely before we pass that legislation to make sure it's workable".

Members of the public often raised with him how the law would be administered, whether it would be fair and how onerous and effective it would be. 

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A spokeswoman for Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse confirmed the Government would seek approval for an extension from Parliament's business committee later on Tuesday but no comment would be made before then.

It is understood National was planning to exempt small businesses with fewer than 20 staff from a requirement to appoint health and safety representatives. Labour MPs want the level set no higher than 10 employees.

Council of Trade Unions President Helen Kelly on Tuesday said she was worried about the impact of the Government's changes.

"At the beginning of the review of health and safety (as a direct result of the tragedy at Pike River) the Government promised that our laws would take 'no steps backwards'.  It seems the Government is intent on breaking that promise by creating these exemptions.

"We owe it to the workers who have been killed at work, the 29 men at Pike but also the other workers who are hurt or killed on the job, to have a better law, a stronger law."

She said workers electing their own health and safety representatives was of benefit to the workplace, regardless of the size of firm or the industry they work in.

"Everyone should be able to participate in their own health and safety at work."

Other changes from the Government side were tipped to assuage the concerns of farmers about their responsibility for people on their land and to address worries about the rules covering volunteers.

The bill is part of "Working Safer: A blueprint for health and safety at work" and follows recommendations of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety.

Working Safer aims to cut the workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020. 

It allocates duties to the person or entity in the best position to control risks to health and safety, defined as the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).

 - Stuff

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