Review of the key characteristics that determine the efficacy of OHS instruments: Report to the Minister of Labour
A key component of an effective occupational health and safety system is that workplaces must be able to access relevant and current information from government agencies to assist in the development of effective health and safety systems that lead to a reduction in occupational disease and injury rates.
In 2007, NOHSAC, in conjunction with the Office of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, commissioned a review of the key characteristics that determine the efficacy of OHS instruments, including approved codes of practice and guidance material. The principal aim of the report was to review key characteristics that determine the efficacy of OHS instruments and, in so doing, to fill some gaps in the knowledge base about them.
The technical report was underpinned by a review of the literature relating to codes and guidance material (both regulator- and industry-developed) in Australia, New Zealand and internationally, in the area of OHS and other areas of regulation. The review was complemented by detailed interviews and questionnaires administered to 54 respondents, drawn from OHS regulators, industry, unions, and OHS and other specialists in seven countries (Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, The Netherlands, Denmark and Finland). The review was also informed by an online survey of 22 users of codes and guidance material (in Australia and New Zealand).
The Department of Labour, via its inspectorate, is required to help employers, employees and other persons to improve safety at places of work, and the safety of people at work, by providing information and education.
The 1996 Labour Committee inquiry into the administration of occupational health and safety in New Zealand revealed that small businesses expressed significant concern at the lack of information provided by the then Occupational Safety Health Service. In 2007, this concern was still being expressed by employers and unions about resources for workplaces provided by the Department of Labour.
It may be tempting to dismiss these concerns (as was done previously) that workplaces do not understand their responsibilities under the HSE Act. This response misses the point. The majority of workplaces, especially small businesses, are not able to resource all of the information regarding occupational health and safety hazards. In a rapidly evolving work environment, it is imperative that the relevant government agencies provide appropriate leadership, guidance and support for workplaces.
Approved codes of practice and guidance material require significant resources. This year, the Department of Labour has received significant additional funding for occupational health and safety activities, and this additional funding must be used, in part, to provide current advice for workplaces to assist with compliance, but primarily to promote best practice. This commitment needs to be sustained over the long term, be focused on current and emerging issues and become a core part of the services provided by the Department of Labour.
PROFESSOR NEIL PEARCE