New legislation for health and safety (Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 - HSWA) came into force in April 2016. It’s a year on, and still it seems that small businesses are still wondering how it affects them. They either don’t quite understand what they are supposed to do, or what is supposed to be in place. They question the brevity of the legislation pertaining to their business which often leads to complacency. Lastly, they often question what is health and safety!
Health and safety by definition is an easy one. It is keeping everyone healthy and safe while at work and ensuring that they go home at the end of each day to their families fully intact, physically, and mentally. This not only includes employees, contractors but also visitors to the workplace.
Health and Safety at work is not a new topic within the employment realm, it has been around for decades. The legislation we have today is only a little different to what we had in place under the 1992 (Health and Safety in Employment Act - HSE) legislation. The difference is there are now higher penalties, more obvious requirements for employees to be involved and participate, to work with other PCBU’s (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) onsite, emergency and continuity planning and the wording suggests that an employer is required to do whatever is “reasonably practicable” to keep their employees safe by eliminating or controlling risks. This is a simplistic description of the differences in the new Act, but in reality not much has really changed. All businesses should have been including health and safety in their day to day actions since 1992, with the Health and Safety in Employment Act legislation.
As a SME business owner, what does the HSWA mean for you and what do you need to cover off? The penalties are a lot higher than ever before. I don’t agree with using scare tactics to get people to comply with legislation, but I do believe in good education. Education starts with understanding what the requirements are from the legal point of view. While the law doesn’t demand the use of a plan or manual for your health and safety, case law considered the need for your health and safety to be recorded and to have procedures easily accessible by employees, and contractors. A health and safety plan helps to put all this information in one place. Putting health and safety into action isn’t something that needs to be difficult, and obviously too much paperwork will only make the task of health and safety more complicated and harder to use. It is best to find something that works easily and effectively for your business whether it is paper based or electronic. A good health and safety consultant should be able to work through your needs to ensure you get everything in place, and make it easy to use and identify risks.
You need to be able to identify the risks in your workplace, and manage those effectively. Regularly reviewing the controls that are in place to manage those risks will show if they are working. In most office/retail workplaces the risks may not be as obvious as out on the farm or in the forest, but there are some that should be actively managed. This includes the risks we can’t actively see, such as stress, fatigue, bullying and harassment. Manual handling, and driving or the use of vehicles are also areas to think about.
When health and safety becomes a living process that is incorporated seamlessly into your daily practices at work, it is a simple area to manage. It becomes second nature to consider health and safety implications, and previously-viewed hurdles are efficiently dealt with, with little drama.
As a director of a company (business or undertaking), you need to keep abreast of the developments within health and safety and especially within your industry. Signing up to the regular newsletters and emails from Worksafe or from your health and safety consultant is a great way to get regular information. Any information that you gain should ideally be shared with others within the workplace through regular health and safety meetings which can be part of your normal team meetings. Within those meetings, a review of a couple of your risks could be discussed and any new ideas around controlling those may come to light. Continue to incorporate training into your meetings as well. When a new staff member starts, ensure your induction process also includes health and safety components.
WorkSafe NZ is a great website full of information pertinent to your industry along with the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum (www.zeroharm.org.nz) and the Directors Institute for health and safety needs around governance. Take the time to read any approved guidelines or industry standards as your needs will be accurately spelled out in these documents.
Health and safety is often regarded as a pain in the neck, but the benefits of good health and safety practices are huge. Research shows that good health and safety contributes to reducing absenteeism, increased productivity, building better workplace relationships through participation and discussions, improving your opportunities for winning new work and improving your brand/image. It shows employees and others that you genuinely care about them and their health and wellbeing, thus improving morale and engagement. Richard Branson said “clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients” and it couldn’t be more accurate today.
- Get educated – find out as much as you can about health and safety. There are great websites, and plenty of people offering often free workshops about health and safety. Sign up to the regular newsletters from WorkSafe and Livewire HR.
- Start taking note of your risks, and the controls that are in place, reviewing these to see if they are working.
- Ensure you have an emergency and continuity plan in place and that everyone knows what it is.
- Ensure information is passed around (document this as much as possible). This can be done at your regular staff/contractor meetings and via any other ways you think is effective for your business.
- Get some help from a health and safety consultant they can make it simple for you.
- While a health and safety plan isn’t “required” by law, it does make sure that all your systems are in one place.
- Keep reviewing and make things better for the health and wellbeing of your employees, contractors and visitors.