New H&S rules puts everyone on notice
New Zealand is undergoing major change in health and safety legislation with a whole new Act before the House in 2014. The Act includes fundamental changes to the health and safety approach with ramifications, responsibilities, and penalties right down the food chain.
The changes are based on Australian Law, the official argument being that the Australian case law fast tracks our own development here. Putting another country's laws and processes on a pedestal can be a dangerous tactic – but at least it offers an opportunity to lift the hood on our Tasman neighbours when looking for advice and solutions.
There is huge political pressure for change as a fallout from the Pike River enquiry, and while this is good in terms of catalyst for change, it also has the hidden downside of a whole new avalanche of zealous bureaucracy as the brass hats fall over each other to be seen to be doing something.
Worryingly, it also provides ample opportunity for everybody in the game to push their own agendas.
The crossover MBIE/WorkSafe crown agency is in the spotlight and has locked into a programme of overhauling codes of practices as part of the big push. Low hanging fruit is the target of choice, so first cab off the rank is machine guarding.
This indicates the experts believe there is something wrong with the current code of practise, other than the people removing the guards. The Maintenance Society (MESNZ) takes a more logical and practical management experience view that recommends an emphasis on behavioural psychology, and personal responsibility.
To provide a solution with a heavy focus on culture and societal pressure that's backed by a regime that ensures easy access to safety solutions for workers and business owners (less stick, more carrot).
This is borne out by the forestry experience where new codes of practise have proved ineffective because the ‘workers didn't understand them'.
Regardless, in our modern society, public and industry consultation has certainly provided the opportunity for fresh feedback and a modicum of logic to prevail and you must accept the small wins and remain involved if you wish to counter a system that achieved nothing for two decades.
MESNZ certainly takes this approach into the guarding debate with a philosophy of keeping changes realistic, practical, affordable and achievable for the average operation.
It may not deal with the person who operates machinery dangerously, but if we can refresh the thinking around the guarding, we have taken a positive step.
The first thing for industry to get its head around is that our previously ‘brief' machine guarding code has been replaced by a new guideline founded in the Australian AS4024 document, a hefty tome retailing at around $ 600 a copy.
Topping that off is an expectation that people responsible for machinery guarding, (yes, including tradesmen and engineers), are ‘knowledgeable' regarding the requirements.
WorkSafe has attempted to ease the burden by simplifying the requirements as much as possible in their ‘Best Practice Guidelines for the Safe Use of Machinery' including providing processes for resolving difficult guarding scenarios.
My favourite example of this is a helicopter rotor. How do you guard this? Impractical. Illogical. Unaffordable. Laughable. Unachievable.
Instead, the operator is guided to a process of risk minimisation to safely control the situation around these obviously lethal bits of equipment.
Add to this, a WorkSafe goal of providing a one-stop shop (web-based) for guiding operators to a solution rather than just the rules, and we have the beginnings of a much more practical approach to positive health & safety management.
However industry must also prepare itself for the next wave of ‘consultants and experts' using the changes as a license to print money. MESNZ has already been approached by business operators tackled by consultants waving the scaremonger banner to provide both the problem and the solution.
Worksafe is trying to provide a solution for this issue and is looking to industry associations such as MESNZ to provide reference points for people searching for machine guarding guidance.
MESNZ has committed to the request and has provided a public list of machine guarding practitioners and consultants on its website www.mesnz.org.nz. The list is in the public domain and will include feedback capabilities (from MESNZ members only) to help guide the public in their selection.
If your business is not listed, or you wish to sign up to the society and provide your own feedback, simply contact the society via the website.
The final advice to industry from MESNZ is to take a look at your Australian cousins before you pull out the chequebook. The government has based the new Act on the Australian statutes to make use of the existing case law.
It would also make sense then to check out the Australian guarding solutions and experiences for your guarding problem before you reinvent the wheel.