Health and safety: what you need to do

Sector news
15 October 2018

Once a business owner or employer is aware of their obligations under legislation laid down by the Health and Safety Act, the next step is to put in place a plan that identifies and manages the risks present in the workplace they are responsible for.

Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t necessarily need to consist of a thick file of papers outlining procedures and processes.

“A massive tome sitting on a shelf gathering dust isn’t very useful when it comes to addressing health and safety risks,” says Darren Handforth, Chief Inspector Assessments Southern at WorkSafe New Zealand. 

“You can’t just tick off a load of boxes and call the job done. Our legislation calls for business owners to develop and maintain good health and safety practices with their workers."

“This means making sure people have awareness of what the risks are and the measures in place to manage them.

“Health and safety is fundamentally about everyone within a workspace having conversations and working together to implement effective control measures.

“It’s a very positive thing, actually. Research shows that a business with good health and safety practices and an engaged workforce enjoy increased productivity, more resilience to challenges, lower rates of staff turnover and a reduced risk of workplace stress due to bullying or a toxic workplace culture.”

When identifying risk, Darren reminds us the chronic risk category is where business owners need to focus their attention.

“Of course, recognising and mitigating those acute risks such as being hit by a vehicle in a clinic car-park are important, but having a comprehensive understanding of the potential long-term effects of risks in the workplace and a clear process of eliminating or minimising them  is really where the most benefit can be found,” he says.

One example of this in a clinic situation is identifying what hazardous substances may be present, ensuring that all staff are aware of it, not just those who may need to use it as part of their role, identifying how to keep exposure to a minimum and even investigating if less toxic alternatives are available to reduce the risk of long-term harm altogether.

It is also important that the control measures themselves are monitored and checked to ensure they remain relevant and effective over time.

Encouraging regular conversations about health and safety can help satisfy the legislative obligations an employer is under and those conversations don’t need to take place in a formal setting.

“It’s not rocket science,” says Darren. “It’s about making sure you are embracing the concept of what a risk is and exploring all the possibilities there are to eliminating or reducing it and that can happen just as effectively in a spontaneous discussion as a scheduled meeting.”

Other important risks clinics should consider are psychosocial risks like work stress, fatigue, workplace bullying and harassment (including aggressive patients).

The issue of workplace stress and bullying is becoming more and more prominent as the increasing demands of modern day work practices and technology make people more susceptible to psychosocial impacts on their mental and emotional health.

These impacts can in turn present a risk to others, perpetuating the cycle. Maintaining a two-way conversation, ensuring that your business has a positive work culture and including mental ill-health as a potential risk factor are all helpful in addressing the issue.

“Awareness is key and a holistic approach is the best one to take,” says Darren. “Humans are complicated creatures so business owners need to look at things from many different angles.”

One area of health and safety particularly pertinent to some clinics and practices is the concept of ‘overlapping duties’. This occurs when different businesses share the same, or connected, workspace such as a patient clinic, pharmacy and x-ray facility sited in the same building or complex.

In this case, responsibility for the area lies with all the business owners present and the legislation sets an expectation that there is a collective approach to identifying and managing risk. This doesn’t need to take time and copious amounts of paperwork but does require business owners to talk and work together to ensure the health and safety of everyone, workers, customers and visitors alike.

“It’s all about having conversations, at the end of the day,” says Darren. “And WorkSafe New Zealand is no different. We are not here to catch people out, or point the finger. We want to help and support business owners to be able to discharge their primary duty of care in the best way we can.”

The WorkSafe New Zealand website ( has a substantial amount of information, presented in an accessible manner, for business owners about how to assess work risks, what to look for, how to put a management plan in place and how to resolve any issues. There are also tools that address workplace bullying, how to write health and safety documents and a specific section on health and safety in the healthcare provision sector.