Debunking Common Misconceptions About H&S in the Workplace
It can’t be denied that workplace health and safety is an important factor for productivity, job satisfaction, and, ultimately, business success. However, despite the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) being in effect since 4 April 2016, it appears that many still have misconceptions about HSWA.
Below, we discuss HSWA in more detail to help you understand it better.
What Is HSWA and What Is It For?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 was developed in response to a report by the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety in 2013. It stated that New Zealand’s work health and safety system was failing, which necessitated reforms.
HSWA now serves as the country’s key work health and safety legislation. All kinds of work and workplaces are covered, unless exclusions are explicitly stated. WorkSafe acts as the regulator of HSWA, with a mandate to educate, engage, and enforce.
The primary purpose of HSWA is to ensure that every worker is given the highest level of protection against risks that can negatively affect their health, safety, and welfare. It also recognises and emphasises the importance of participation, leadership, and accountability by all parties involved: government, businesses, and workers.
Why Are There So Many Health And Safety Laws in the Workplace?
The reason workplace health and safety laws exist is to ensure the following:
- the protection of workers and other individuals present in the workplace against harm
- the minimisation of risks arising from work
- the provision of fair workplace representation, consultation, and cooperation, resulting in effective resolution of issues
- the promotion of constructive roles by unions and employer organisations with regards to improving work health and safety practices
- that PCBUs and workers will have proper assistance in achieving healthy and safe working environments
- that there is ample health and safety training, information, education, and advice for workers
Through appropriate compliance and enforcement measures, HSWA aims to not only ensure the welfare of all NZ workers but also continuously improve the country’s standards of workplace health and safety.
Why Is It Important to Follow All Health And Safety Laws in the Workplace?
Following health and safety laws isn’t just a matter of compliance and moral obligation. It’s also about giving your business and your employees a wide array of benefits that can contribute to success. Here are just a few:
- lower absence rates, thereby increasing efficiency and productivity
- higher job satisfaction because of the feeling of being cared for by bosses/management
- higher retention rate, resulting in lower recruitment costs
- higher likelihood in attracting talented candidates (who know their worth to a company)
- less disruptions due to downtimes related to illnesses or accidents
- positive image both to the public and potential investors
- higher trust level from employees and business partners
Ultimately, complying with HSWA will benefit everyone with a stake in your business.
Common Misconceptions About HSWA Regulations
One of the most common misconceptions about HSWA is that its main focus is the prosecution of those who don’t comply. This can’t be farther from the truth. As earlier stated, HSWA is about developing and enforcing regulations in order to ensure that every worker is protected against health and safety risks.
Some of the myths surrounding HSWA are listed below, together with facts that debunk these mistaken beliefs:
1) HSWA is just an excuse for the government to make more money.
The government fining those who don’t follow the law—whether or not it’s about health and safety—is not something new. It’s true that HSWA has increased the fines for serious health and safety offences. However, it’s easy to avoid paying these penalties through compliance. HSWA encourages workplaces to focus on risk management and not on the fines they won’t likely even be paying when they’re properly enacting H&S policies.
2) Workplaces can no longer go on outdoor trips and excursions because if someone gets hurt, then we’ll suffer consequences.
HSWA isn’t meant to discourage camping and other similar activities. Rather, it’s there to help inculcate a culture of safety. Besides, you’ll have more fun when you know that there’s a plan in place to keep everyone safe if ever an accident or emergency does happen.
3) Businesses can no longer employ persons with disabilities because they deal with greater risks.
Discrimination is against the law. If a company does not want to hire a differently abled person on the basis that it’s “too risky,” then it’s possible that they don’t have a robust health and safety system in the first place.
4) HSWA just makes things more expensive for businesses.
As any business person would know, it’s important to invest in the right things to achieve growth and success. In this case, developing a health and safety plan and investing in H&S overall are great investments with high returns. As mentioned in the previous section, investing in H&S offers plenty of benefits for your business.
How Do You Comply With HSWA Regulations?
When you look at the big picture, complying with HSWA regulations is actually easier than you expect. Focus on the following to establish a solid foundation:
- providing health and safety training, not just for the development but also proper implementation of protocols
- establishing a communications system for sharing information, instruction, and supervision
- providing adequate welfare provisions
- creating a safe working environment
What Happens If You Don’t Comply With HSWA?
There are various penalties for HSWA non-compliance, with particularly serious ones for events that result in death or grave injury. Some of these include fines of up to $150,000 for those who aren’t PCBUs; up to $300,000 for a PCBU or an officer of a PCBU; and up to $1,000,000 for other persons or companies.
The penalties may also be increased to include imprisonment if it has been found that the breach in H&S laws was caused by reckless conduct. The terms of imprisonment may last up to five years.
For non-financial penalties, persons and companies may be commanded to comply with adverse publicity orders, follow court-ordered enforceable undertakings, or complete project orders, among others.
Hopefully, this quick look into the basics HSWA has helped you appreciate its importance in an ever-evolving workplace.