Safety at work

Articles

Workplace accidents have many causes. Being aware of possible hazards, and eliminating or minimising them, is the first step towards safer workplaces.

Employers are required to provide safety equipment

Accidents often happen because nobody has considered that something is dangerous. Sometimes people have accidents because they have not been trained to do their job safely. People have accidents in all kinds of jobs, including office jobs. Hazards (things that might cause harm) exist in all types of workplaces, just as they exist in our homes.

Accidents in the workplace are very common. About 50 people are killed in work accidents in New Zealand every year, and many more are seriously injured. Young people are three times more likely to be injured at work than older people. Every year, nearly 6,000 15 to 24 year olds have serious work-related injuries, requiring more than a week off work.

Health and Safety legislation

The law governing workplace safety is the Health and Safety in Employment (HSE) Act 1992, administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, through WorkSafe. The HSE Act applies to everyone, in nearly every place of work, whether inside or outside, public or private, even underwater and underground. It does not cover the crew of aircraft in flight, or on ships at sea, as other laws cover these people.

Employers, contractors, and people who control places of work all have responsibilities and obligations under the HSE Act.

To make their workplaces safe and healthy, they must identify and manage workplace hazards, ensure that equipment, appliances, fittings and furniture are safe, and that there are no hazards that may harm people near the workplace. They are also required to have procedures in place for dealing with any emergencies that may arise at work.

Employees also have certain responsibilities for their own safety, and must be considered in health and safety measures, whether they are permanent, temporary, casual, full-time or part-time.

What is a hazard?

Hazards can be many things. A slippery floor is a hazard, as is a machine that is not properly guarded. Some hazards cannot be seen, such as chemicals, which may cause skin or health problems. Asbestos, a building material used in the past, is a hazard. Exposure to asbestos dust, which can happen when dismantling old buildings, can eventually lead to serious illness or even death.

Accidents in the workplace are very common. About 50 people are killed in work accidents in New Zealand every year, and many more are seriously injured. Young people are three times more likely to be injured at work than older people. Every year, nearly 6,000 15 to 24 year olds have serious work-related injuries, requiring more than a week off work.

Employer responsibilities

Employers are required to systematically identify all possible hazards in the work environment, then take all possible steps to eliminate these. A frayed electrical cord must be replaced, for example, and a broken ladder repaired.

If it is not possible to eliminate these hazards, they must be isolated, which means separating them from workers. If a floor is slippery, for example, warning signs should be placed around it until it is safe again.

If hazards cannot be eliminated or isolated, they must be minimised. If it is not possible to reduce the noise of a machine, for instance, workers should be provided with earmuffs to protect their hearing. Employers have an obligation to train their staff to work safely.

Staff must understand any known hazards, and be taught how to manage them. If employees are working with dangerous chemicals, they must be told of the symptoms of illness resulting from over-exposure to these. Employers must also ensure that staff have the skills and experience required to work safely. They must make sure staff know what to do in an emergency – how to switch off a machine or where fire extinguishers are, for instance – and are also required to provide proper supervision of hazardous jobs.

If there is an accident, or even a “near-miss” (nearly an accident), employers are required to record and evaluate the event, and the harm it may have caused. They must then take steps to control the hazard. Employers are expected to give their staff the chance to identify work hazards, and discuss what can be done about them.

Employee responsibilities

Employees are expected to take all possible steps to ensure they are not harmed at work, and that they do not cause harm to anyone else. If safety equipment is provided, for instance, it must be used. You should know what to do to protect yourself from an accident – this includes using protection equipment and safety procedures such as reporting problems and turning equipment on or off.

You should understand any safety signs in the workplace. Sometimes people misinterpret a command or sign with fatal consequences. Always ask if you are in doubt. Equipment must not be damaged or misused. It is an offence to deliberately tamper with fire-fighting equipment so it does not work, for instance, or remove guards from dangerous machinery. Employees can be prosecuted if they disobey clear instructions, act recklessly, are negligent, fool around, or deliberately ignore hazards, even if no harm is caused.

Report all accidents

All accidents, including “near-misses”, must be reported by employees to their immediate supervisor or manager. Any symptoms of illness which may have been caused by a work hazard must also be reported. It is important to know what the risks of your particular job are. Keyboard operators are at risk of developing occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), for instance, while spray painters may react to chemicals in paint. If you think your safety or health is at risk, tell your supervisor or manager, and perhaps discuss solutions with them. If you think the problem has not been solved, you can contact your union representative, or your local Health and Safety office.

What if you are injured at work?

Tell your employer immediately. He or she will arrange first aid or any other medical treatment you need. The employer will then need to control the hazard so no one else is harmed. The accident also needs to be recorded in your work’s accident register. This is a legal requirement. If your injury is serious, your employer must report it to Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Accident compensation

If you cannot work because of a serious injury or work related condition, such as OOS, you may be entitled to be paid Accident Compensation. Your doctor will tell you if you need to fill out an ACC form. If your claim is accepted you will be paid 80 per cent of your earnings until you can return to work. Your employer will pay the first week and ACC the rest. You may also be entitled to a partial refund on doctor’s visits and any physiotherapy you need. 

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