Friday 15 January 2016

Regulatory uncertainty breeds risk aversion

Combine tough potential penalties for failing to prevent accidents at workplaces with Worksafe decisions that can seem like ridiculous overkill to people who aren't Worksafe regulators and you've a recipe for some entrepreneurial activity.

Here's Radio New Zealand:
High school principals said they have been inundated with cold calls from safety firms, telling them they could go to jail without proper help.

New health and safety laws, which take effect in April, mean those with supervising roles in workplaces will have more responsibility for preventing accidents.

They also face tougher penalties of five years' jail or up to $600,000 in fines.

Worksafe's chief executive Gordon MacDonald said some consultants had been playing on anxiety about the new rules.

"It's those sorts of people that we want people to be wary of and not to rush blindly into seeking their services because they've been told that there's some dire consequence awaiting for them."

"Our position is that if people are doing the right thing now by the existing law, the changes that they need to make are probably not going to be that significant," he said.
Meanwhile, some schools are wondering whether they can continue with New Zealand's wonderful fun school playgrounds that allow a bit of risk, and others are quitting the profession:
Rotorua's John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said it was particularly worrying that some principals were retiring early.

"When asked why they're retiring it's because of stress, burnout and concerns over increased liability for principals. Examples they cite are the changes in health and safety where they face up to $600,000 fines and five years in prison, and also concerns over a more litigious environment.

"The feedback we're getting from principals is that many deputy principals and those in middle management are not considering putting their hand up to be principal."
I don't doubt Worksafe's assertion that they wouldn't apply the big fines or penalties except in bad cases.

But if they can't prove it to the principals affected, they're going to help kill a wonderful part of New Zealand - regardless of their intentions.

Worksafe's mythbusting article suggests schools that are behaving well needn't worry. I'm glad I'm not on our local school board because I have no clue what Worksafe might deem "reasonably practicable." And I can understand Boards who might think that having a professionally produced plan might be part of demonstrating having taken reasonably practicable steps.

The Education Ministry helpfully compiles the various school toolkits for ensuring Worksafe at School. They include Toolkit 1, Toolkit 2, Toolkit 3, Toolkit 4, Toolkit 4a, ...

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