Employment

Health and Safety trends

August, 2021

By: EMA

The EMA AdviceLine offers an advisory service to employers across all areas of employment. They respond to those with an immediate need for advice and the depth and breadth of knowledge in the team is extensive.

More often than not the caller’s question is just the beginning of a much more complex problem, and they handle around 30,000 enquiries a year from their members.  

Advice can include guidance on managing employment relationships, employee performance, disciplinary issues, restructuring, leave entitlements and general legislation compliance. Health and Safety and ACC are also common topics with employers seeking direction to ensure they meet their obligations. There is often a cross over between a health and safety query and general employment management. For example, drug testing and bullying/harassment can be health and safety issues as well as requiring investigation and potential disciplinary procedures.  

While specific health and safety questions only make up a small percentage of enquires, the content is often complex and AdviceLine can also refer employers on to our specialist Health and Safety Consultants who offer a full range of services.

AdviceLine is often a first point of contact for employers seeking advice and below are some of the common health and safety related questions they receive calls about.

Wellbeing – bullying/harassment

There is an increasing awareness around the importance of employee wellbeing and the destructive nature of bullying/harassment. Many organisations have wellbeing programmes in place to support employees and increase awareness around looking after mental health.

Sexual and racial harassment are defined in legislation and while bullying is not specifically defined, it is often a term used to describe repeated and unreasonable behaviour. Conduct may include threatening, intimidating, derogatory or abusive behaviour, or any other conduct that is inappropriate. One off rude behaviour is unlikely to considered bullying, but it would need to be addressed. 

Clear organisation values and open communication can assist with providing a positive and safe working environment. They recommend having polices covering expected behaviour, procedures for raising concerns, investigation and management of issues and details about available support services.

Keeping young people safe 

They are often asked about age restricts for employing young people. Employers may employ people under the age of 16, obviously outside of school hours and during their holidays, however some specific health and safety requirements need to be met.

The health and safety regulations set out the obligations of a PCBU around young people in the workplace. There are restrictions on someone under 16 years working between 10pm and 6am and those under 15 years carrying out certain types of work and in specific areas. These include restrictions on lifting, driving, and working with machinery and ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, that no worker aged under 15 years carries out work in an area where goods are being manufactured, construction work, logging or tree-felling. A worker aged under 15 years can generally carry out administrative or retail work, however employers need to consider the work environment.

Working remotely

Working from home has recently become more common and while some people just set up in a comfortable place in their home and carry on, it is important that all parties are aware of the need to comply with their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

While a person working from home will often have more control over the working environment than in the office, there is still a requirement to manage risks which will involve identifying and managing hazards.

The details can be included in a working from home policy and cover work expectations and the need to follow health and safety requirements when working from home or remotely. It is also important to have effective communication processes in place with the workers work alone.  There are real benefits in consulting and working through the various considerations before agreeing to any alternative working arrangements.  

Work related injuries – obligations

A work-related personal injury is one that a person suffers when they are at any place for the purposes of their employment, which includes time when the employee is having a meal or rest break from work at the workplace. Where a person suffers a work-related personal injury and is incapacitated, they are entitled to receive compensation of 80% of their lost earnings paid by their employer during the first week of incapacity. The payment does not affect their sick leave. Where incapacity continues, ACC pay compensation after the first week. Issues can arise around whether an injury is work or non-work related and before paying the first week’s compensation, it is recommended employers have a clear process for notification, and medical certification. Workplace accidents and incidents need to be investigated, recorded, and in the case of serious harm, notified to WorkSafe. 

Personal Protective Equipment

The question is often asked about who pays for personal protective equipment especially where work is of a short-term nature. The legislation is clear that a PCBU must not charge a worker for anything done, or provided, in relation to health and safety. An employee cannot be required to provide their own PPE as a pre-condition of employment or a term or condition in an employment agreement. A PCBU has a duty to provide PPE and to ensure the worker is using required PPE and are trained in its correct use.

There is an exception which allows a worker to use their own PPE if they genuinely and voluntarily choose to provide it for reasons of their comfort or convenience and the PCBU is satisfied that it is suitable.

The key is to ensure where PPE is required it is used. 

Legislation and guidance

The health and safety legislation is comprehensive and the WorkSafe website provides access to plenty of information and resources, however one area that needs more guidance is what are reasonably practicable steps in specific situations.

AdviceLine works to support employers and encourage you to contact them on 0800 300 362.

Sean Hanna, Team Manager – AdviceLine

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