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Chester Borrows: All the rubbish doesn't ensure protection for a single worker

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Posted 21 August 2015 - 05:33 PM

Chester Borrows: All the rubbish doesn't ensure protection for a single worker
By Chester Borrows
9:42 AM Friday Aug 21, 2015

http://www.nzherald....jectid=11500655

THE HEALTH and safety legislation
is making its way through Parliament with a lot of arguments back and forth as to pressures to maximise or minimise the interests of business and workers.

What never escapes me is that political pressures want to tar parties with one brush or another. A prevailing thought seems to be that you can't be a boss and a worker - and you can't be a worker without being exploited by a boss.

What escapes those with the tar brush is that 85 per cent of us work in small and medium enterprises with low numbers of workers and, frequently, with bosses working alongside staff.

Many employees have long tenures with the companies that employ them. This means that gradually the demarcation between boss and workmate blurs and becomes indistinguishable.

When it comes to workplace injuries and deaths, the most poignant feature is that everybody is grieving. If a staff member loses their life at work, the business owner has lost more than a "labour unit" - they may well have lost a long-time if not lifelong friend.

Many in the union movement tend to suggest the only reasons a business owner would grieve the loss of a staff member through a workplace incident are the threat of prosecution by the Labour Department, the increased ACC levies incurred, the loss of production, and the inconvenience of having to recruit another staff member and train them up.

It is a ridiculous position to take. So is the stupid assertion that the Government has only made changes to health and safety legislation to keep big business donors of campaign funds happy.

Opposition parties are quick to push the buttons that allege corruption, and this is done over any legislation before the Parliament.

Apparently, state housing reform is being pursued so the Government can sell houses off to its rich mates, changes to alcohol legislation were only to satisfy the supermarket duopoly, fishing regulations the same, and any environmental policy has to go easy on farmers and keep them happy.

Of course, the fact that much of the Opposition parties' policies are union-friendly and unions not only contribute heavily to political parties on the left, and even have a 20 per cent vote in leader selection of the Labour Party, does not escape parties on the right.

All this rubbish from both sides does not ensure protection for a single worker.

In the end, we need to accept the tension between keeping people safe in the workplace without crippling the business endeavours that keep us all employed.

We need to accept that operator error lies behind most accidents - whether in the workplace or not - and that they occur regardless of a health and safety plan, even though having such a plan is fundamental to workplace safety.

Only an idiot would suggest that an injury on a worksite should have no ramifications for the employer if that employer knew of an unsafe practice, or had not taken all reasonable steps to avoid the unsafe practice.

The argument then becomes about what is "reasonable" and that will vary according to risk as it was known pre-event and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

While hindsight should affect practice to avoid similar events in the future, lack of reasonable foresight should be the focus of health and safety legislation, investigation and, as a last resort, prosecution.

- Wanganui Chronicle

By Chester Borrows

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