The new Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) is intended to ensure there is one system for managing workplace health and safety across the whole of New Zealand, says Maritime NZ General Manager of Maritime Standards, Sharyn Forsyth.
While Maritime NZ is the regulator responsible for health and safety on ships as places of work, and work on board ships, Sharyn says the over-arching intent of the reforms – enabled through the new HSWA – is to have a common approach to regulation, regardless of which agency has jurisdiction.
“We are working closely with other regulators to make sure there are no gaps, and that there is a clearly consistent approach to health and safety oversight regardless of which agency someone is engaging with.”
The Government has introduced the new Act following the Pike River mining disaster, and in consideration of New Zealand’s unacceptably high rates of workplace fatalities and serious harm injuries.
Commercial fishing is one of the five highest risk sectors, along with forestry, agriculture, construction and manufacturing.
The Act requires persons who manage or control workplaces to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace, the means of entering and exiting the workplace, and anything arising from the workplace is without risks to the health and safety of any person. In addition to these obligations, most people in this position also have other measures in place to manage health and safety.
Examples are the Maritime Operator Safety System (MOSS) under the Maritime Transport Act and associated rules, and systems designed to allow an employer to qualify for discounts from ACC levies.
Sharyn says employers should focus on having only one Health and Safety system, which covers HSWA requirements, specific sector obligations such as MOSS, and ACC requirements.
“You don’t need to have three different systems – develop one system that encompasses all these requirements and meets your needs, and we will pick out the bits we want to assess. It’d be helpful if you gave us an index to tell the agency you’re dealing with where our bits are, though!”
Sharyn points out that, unlike the majority of land-based workplaces, maritime operators need to approach a regulator (Maritime NZ) for permission to operate – so they already have to show they have a health and safety plan in place.
“That doesn’t mean their current health and safety plan will meet all the wider obligations under the new HSWA, but our sector does have a head-start with the Maritime Operator Safety System (MOSS), and the counterpart international and small domestic safety systems.
“We introduced MOSS less than two years ago and it requires commercial operators to undertake detailed safety planning for their entire operation – not just the vessels, but how those vessels are used and what activities employees are undertaking.
“Nearly half the 1600 or so commercial maritime operators have already been formally assessed under MOSS – and they are likely to be well advanced in developing their safety systems compared to some other businesses in New Zealand,” Sharyn says.
One of the most important factors that all operators must consider under HSWA is the new onus of responsibility for health and safety put on a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking). The next pivotal role is that of the Officer, who must exercise due diligence to ensure the PCBU meets its health and safety obligations.
The Officer will generally be the director of a company. “In the case of a small fishing operator, for example, the PCBU and Officer may be the same person. In a bigger enterprise Officers are likely to be the Chief Executive and members of the Board.”
The new Act also includes additional responsibilities for PCBUs to involve workers in planning safety procedures and systems; and workers, themselves, must take reasonable care to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others in the workplace. Where there are overlapping duties between PCBUs – for example when an electrical contractor comes on board a vessel to do maintenance – then all PCBUs must consult, cooperate and coordinate activities.
Maritime NZ will provide initial guidance on what is required under the new Act by April 4, when it comes into force and a wider suite by June 30.
Sharyn says “we are currently working through the detail – such as providing specific guidance on the upstream duties of surveyors and naval architects; and guidance for the inter-relationships of ships’ Masters and health and safety representatives.”
As with existing health and safety legislation, the HSWA provides Maritime NZ with a further compliance tool, in addition to regulations under the Maritime Transport Act. Prosecution may result in penalties, including fines that have a considerably higher threshold than the current legislation.
Maritime Officers are currently training to be warranted Health and Safety officers, and inspections will be aligned with MOSS audits – with a more intensive inspection regime introduced for high risk sectors such as fishing and for large passenger vessels where the consequences of an accident can be significant.
“This will assist in our efforts to ensure a safe ‘fleet’ and safe workplaces in the maritime sector for the benefit of all operators and seafarers, and those who come into contact with the sector,” Sharyn says.