A 10-year plan to address health risks in New Zealand’s workplaces was launched tonight in Wellington by the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Hon Michael Woodhouse.
WorkSafe New Zealand’s strategic plan for work-related health, ‘Healthy Work’, outlines the approach WorkSafe will take over the coming ten years to support and enable businesses to better manage work-related health risks. Each year, these risks kill 600-900 people and lead to a further 30,000 New Zealand workers developing serious, but non-fatal, work-related health conditions.
“Each one of those figures is a real person who has died or has become unwell as a result of their work and for too long we’ve put work-related health in the ‘too hard basket’,” Mr Woodhouse said.
“We can’t fix the issues arising from past exposures, but with strong leadership from across the health and safety system, and everyone demonstrating greater accountability for managing work-related health risks, we can significantly improve health outcomes in our workplaces for the future,” he said.
The plan focuses on enabling greater leadership across the health and safety system by raising awareness of harm and risks, encouraging collaboration, minimising risks at source and influencing the education system to improve understanding of risks. It also guides WorkSafe’s approach to building the capability of its inspectors, improving data and intelligence, providing guidance and education resources, and enhancing the regulatory framework.
“We will address prioritised risks through a series of targeted intervention programmes so that we achieve a step change in performance,” the Chair of WorkSafe, Professor Gregor Coster, said.
“Beyond the high human cost to individuals, their families, whanau and communities, work-related diseases cost this country an estimated $2.4 billion per year. The human and financial costs are simply unacceptable,” he said.
Fatigue can be defined as the temporary inability, or decrease in ability, or strong disinclination to respond to a situation, because of previous over-activity, either mental, emotional or physical. Fatigue can create significant risks which need to be controlled in the workplace, and can significantly impact on worker ability to perform their work safely.
While fatigue is not a new concept, the law relating to fatigue in a health and safety concept is rapidly developing, and accordingly it needs to be on the radar for employers in this context.
We explore a recent case below to highlight some of the key issues employers should be aware of.
Fatigue Case Study:
In November 2014 a Freight Lines Ltd employee fell asleep at the wheel of his truck and double trailer unit running off the road into a tree. He suffered serious injuries including a spinal fracture and a brain injury.
Freight Lines was prosecuted by WorkSafe regarding the accident. Leading up to the crash, the employee had been working significantly in excess of hours permitted by Land Transport requirements, including skipping rest breaks. A focus for the business was evidenced as being the Cook Strait ferry departure time.
It was accepted in court that the tasks assigned to the employee in the days leading up to the accident could not have realistically been achieved within the legal logbook/work time limits, yet these were the tasks he had been assigned by the dispatcher.
The Court held Freight Llines failed to allocate tasks in a way that reduced driver fatigue or to train the dispatchers to deal with this issue, and found that the dispatcher should have factored in the logbook requirement including rest and meal breaks, into the trip allocated, to determine whether this was possible.
The Court ordered $30,000 payable as emotional harm reparation to the employee as well as a fine of $51,000 against Freight Lines and $5,000 towards prosecution costs. The dispatcher was personally fined $4,000.
To manage the risks associated with fatigue, workplaces need to assess what risk a fatigued person may pose in the workplace and implement the control hierarchy in respect of this. Fatigue can be caused by workplace factors as well as outside factors, including lack of sleep and rest during non-work periods.
Tips to manage the risks posed by fatigue in your workplace include:
Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek guidance from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.
Copeland Ashcroft Law