Andrew Little on Workplace Health and Safety

On The Nation yesterday (replayed today Sunday on TV3 at 10 am) Labour leader Andrew Little was questioned by Lisa Owen about the Workplace Health and Safety Bill that’s currently going through Parliament.

Let’s move on to the Health and Safety Bill. Now, you’re opposed to it. But Peter Dunne told us that he can’t believe— and this is a quote from him. Labour’s ‘breath-taking hypocrisy’, ‘because however incremental, this bill does make things better for workers, he says. Are you playing politics with worker safety?

No, I’m not. Look, health and safety is an absolutely crucial part of, you know, good workplace relations and good workplace practice. After Pike River, the disaster and the tragedy that was Pike River, that wasn’t just about a big employer. It was about small employers and businesses of fewer than 20 workers. That was a disaster that was avoidable with good systems, but most importantly, good culture.

So the main thing about the Health and Safety Reform Bill was about getting things in place to have a good culture in the workplace, and there was a consensus about that, and what the bill was first introduced, it was actually in pretty good nick, and I sat on the select committee, and we heard employers, and National Party were very good.

Something has changed in the last few months, and I think what’s happened is that the National Party has decided, or their supporters in the farming lobbies have said, ‘We don’t want a bar of this.’ And even though that is the sector that has the worst record of fatalities and serious accidents, this government is bending over backwards to exclude our businesses and our farming businesses that actually need legislation like this to improve their performance.

So you would want all businesses to have a safety… health and safety officer, regardless of their size or the risk? All of them?

It’s about having, you know, the art of health and safety. What it makes it work is when front-line workers — the front-line workforce — owns it, understands it and is involved in it.

So would you like those front-line workers to have the option, whatever the size business they’re working in or the risk level, to have a health and safety officer?

They should have the right to have one if they want it, and the reason for that is that when you’re dealing with your, you know, health and safety issues, concerns you have about safety at work, actually, going to a peer, going to your equal in the workforce is a way better way to go than relying on a manager or the boss who may not know the full detail of it, which has been, unfortunately, practised in far too many fatal accidents in workplaces so far.

Yet, in saying that, you are mocking the Government. You know, you’re mocking the Government. But, at the same time, you want every worm farmer, every lavender farmer, and every butterfly farmer— if you want every business to have one of these reps — you want that?

Uh, yeah. No, let’s get this right. We had a— we had a bill originally that created the same rule for everybody. That was the right thing to do, and what it did was—

Including all those—? Including all those occupations I’ve just listed? Everybody? So they would be in the mix?

Give workers in small workplaces the right to have a health and safety representative if they wanted one. If they don’t want one, no big deal. But what the government has done is said… They’ve taken fright and said, ‘We want to exempt small businesses.’ Then they decided they needed to ensure that all high-risk industries were included. So they then had to come up for an exemption to the exemption. Then they decided that they didn’t want to upset the farmers. So now they’ve had to come up with an exception to the exception to the exemption. It’s just a mess. It is a total mess.

But you want, Mr Little, would add to compliance costs for small businesses, yet at the start of the year, you said you want to take the handbrake off small businesses. So which is it?

Small businesses have health and safety practices at the moment. Good small businesses, and I’ve visited a lot of them. They do health and safety already, and there are good businesses involved in the workforce.

But you support those regulations being tougher, and that’s more compliance, more red tape and more costs.

Having… Giving a workforce of a small business the right to have their go-to person on health and safety is not a compliance cost. There’s no compliance cost in it. It’s having a go-to person. It’s having a point person in the workplace. A new worker, in particular, comes in. Doesn’t quite get it. They know where to go to on issues of health and safety. That’s what you want. That what gets better health and safety performance.

But a lot of small businesses would say that is more red tape. That is not taking the handbrake off.

Good businesses are doing it already. It’s not a handbrake. It’s not an impediment to good business at all. What we— but what we see in some sectors — and farming is the classic one — tend to be smaller business. They have the worst health and safety. More than a third of the fatalities, workplace fatalities in New Zealand in the past five years, have come from farms. Why would we exclude farms from having the best possible standards and procedures for health and safety. It doesn’t make sense.

Source: Transcript: Labour Party leader Andrew Little

Link to video: Interview: Labour Leader Andrew Little

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  1. Mike C

     /  23rd August 2015

    Isn’t it great how Little is so keen to pass law that will force small businesses and farmers to employ a Health and Safety Officer.

    The man seems to have no idea of the cost and consequences financially, that his party policy would have on the farming and small business communities.

    If that policy ever got passed into law, many thousands of small businesses and farmers would go bust 😦

    The man is an ignorant fool.

  2. kittycatkin

     /  23rd August 2015

    I would guess that while in theory all accidents are preventable, they aren’t in practice without so much work to make sure that they won’t that nothing would ever be done. Didn’t Labour want to have the pavements and streets checked for people who had to walk down them as part of their work-like taking things to the bank ?

    I remember when the number of workplace accidents and deaths seemed to increase dramatically; sensational headlines, sanctimonious spoutings from unions.

    It transpired that they were counting as ‘accidents’ things like a painter who had a heart attack a few minutes after he arrived at work. (obviously the bosses’ fault) Then there was the ‘workplace deaths’ such as the case of an old lady who fell on steps at a plant nursery, broke a hip and died many weeks later from pneumonia, and the fool who ignored those huge signs in lights on a roadwork sight, sped through and crashed into a large piece of machinery. The list went on and on.

    It was sleight of hand-anything happening in a workplace was ‘a workplace accident/death’ even if it wasn’t an accident or wasn’t that person’s workplace. Thus the bosses were responsible and heartless brutes who didn’t care what happened to their hapless workers.

  3. kittycatkin

     /  24th August 2015

    I seem to remember that Labour put the kibosh on creches in places like gyms and supermarkets because they insisted that the people babysitting (which is what they were) be trained childcare workers. No gym or place like the Hamilton Pak & Save which offered a place where people could leave small children in a small play area with a staff member to mind them was prepared to employ and pay someone who was a trained childcare worker to provide a free babysitting service,for their customers so these all stopped offering it.


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