Who is responsible for health and safety in your workplace? Your employer? Supervisor or manager? Maybe the health and safety representative or committee? The short answer is YOU!
Everyone in any workplace has a degree of responsibility over the health and safety policies, processes and procedures which guide your health and safety system.
Having a strong, positive attitude to the importance of health and safety from everyone in an education setting is vitally important. There needs to be strong leadership and a real commitment to ensuring the health and safety of all teachers, children and others involved in a school or ECE setting. Long gone are the days of the typical New Zealand “She’ll be right” attitude. Instead, replaced with more positive attitudes around the benefits to both employers and employees when the health and safety of everyone is taken seriously and focussed on.
In 2016 the ‘Health and Safety in Employment Act’ (1992) became the ‘Health and Safety in Work Act’ with a number of changes made to make clearer everyone’s responsibilities in keeping workers healthy and safe in workplaces. It replaced some terms used such as ‘Employer’ being replaced with ‘Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking’ (PCBU) and ‘Employee’ replaced with the broader term ‘Worker’.
The HSWA clarifies responsibilities and accountabilities, strengthens worker participation and creates expectations for effective risk management that are proportionate to the risk identified. It outlined the responsibility of the PCBU as having the ‘Primary Duty of Care’ for all workers in a workplace. There is no single definition of what or who the PCBU at an ECE service is, as there is such variation in organisation structures and service types. The rule of thumb is that the PCBU of an ECE service is whoever (be it person or board) holds the primary duty of care for, and manages risks to, the health and safety of workers and others arising from the work of the service. For instance, the owner of a private ECE service, the Kohanga Reo Trust or regional association such as Playcentre or Kindergarten.
The PCBU must provide a safe and healthy environment for workers, including access to facilities, provide the right information and training to workers, provide and allow for worker participation in health and safety matters, notify all notifiable illness, injury or events to WorkSafe New Zealand and monitor workers’ health and workplace conditions to prevent illness or injury. Along with the PCBU, a workplace will also have an ‘Officer’ such as a centre manager/supervisor, board members or director who has the ‘Duty of Due Diligence’. This supports the PCBU by placing a positive duty on people at the governance level of an organisation to actively engage in health and safety matters and ensuring that they are always reinforcing with all staff that health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. Through their decision making, they will influence the specific activities that will in turn ensure the success or failure of health and safety initiatives in the workplace.
Along with strong leadership and a stronger focus on worker participation, it is also vitally important to have clear framework resources to guide health and safety. These are your processes, policies and procedures that drive the ability of everyone to identify, assesses and manage hazards and risks in the workplace. These four areas along with the management of workplaces, injury and illness, appropriate training and professional development, health and wellbeing programmes and the continued commitment to monitoring and changing procedures and policies as needed, will come together to ensure you have an effective health and safety system working.
There are many benefits for a strong emphasis on health and safety for both PCBUs and workers, including; improved health of workers, reduced workplace accidents, reduced sick leave, more engaged workers, increased worker performance, reduced absenteeism, better staff retention, lower injury, illness and sick pay costs, a safe and healthy work environment, reduced likelihood of accidents or injuries in the workplace, improved health and morale, increased job satisfaction and an improved sense of wellbeing.
So stop passing the buck, because everyone needs to be responsible and accountable for the decisions they make regarding health and safety.