Whakaari and WorkSafe - troubling times

By NZISM Secretary


Kia ora koutou to all members and supporters of NZISM. I have been watching, with growing concern, media coverage of both the outcome of the Whakaari court process and, at the same time, the cuts being made at WorkSafe to meet the requirements of their budget. It seems that, anecdotally, many of my colleagues share these concerns. And while there is significant discussion about things done or not done, and a lot of questions being asked, what is apparent to me is the impact on many of our NZISM members who are inspectors at WorkSafe.

At a time when the regulatory framework of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 is being tested, resulting in a greater need for advice and support from our regulator, they are facing pressure from increasing cost reduction. While we don’t know the specific details of the reduction strategies at this stage or how these may impact the inspectors, change processes borne from budget restriction, while necessary, can be a destabilising force in even the most prepared organisation. For me it is important that we acknowledge the challenges faced by our members and provide support to those who need it through what is shaping up to be a very tough time ahead.

This also illustrates the importance of psychosocial risk management issues, an area that is gaining more focused attention across Aotearoa New Zealand. Ideally, we would have more resources available to better support organisations in managing psychosocial risks as they develop and mature their health and safety management systems. However, we find ourselves in a position where we not only need be concerned about the continuation of education opportunities in health and safety but also concerned for adequate funding of our state regulatory body. Almost ironically, it seems that the people charged with supporting these activities are currently the ones most at risk.

The reported lack of sufficient funding is also curious in light of the raft of reports examining its activities. An Independent Report: Investigation and Prosecution – Reflective Learning Assessment released under the Official Information Act in 2020, noted that while investigations were of high quality, methods used were out of date, and there were not enough frontline investigators and training to meet the requirements of the role.

And in 2021, a WorkSafe New Zealand Strategic Baseline Review was commissioned in response to the organisation’s position that it received insufficient funding to maintain its activities. The 2022 report of the review was unable to confirm underfunding, due to a lack of data and analysis. A disappointing outcome given the need to have a clear and accurate picture of whether our regulator is able to function adequately. Additionally, one of the key aspects of the dismissal of charges against the owners of Whakaari/White Island as individuals was a lack of evidence with the judge highlighting some missed opportunities in the investigation by WorkSafe to obtain appropriate evidence.

What is clear from all this is that it would be prudent for our regulatory body to have the resources it requires to set a positive example in this regard. As WorkSafe seeks to reprioritise resources and activities to attempt to meet its obligations, it begs the question, how can we in NZISM support not only our inspectorate members, but also the wider health and safety ecosystem?

My role as president of NZISM is to be concerned with our members first and ensure they are supported, and so I’m very conscious of the challenges our inspectorate colleagues are facing. But this is also the time for us to innovate, to do things better and more effectively. Not just the way we’ve always done things, but to take stock and work out how we, collectively as members, including the regulator, change the way we work together to better protect the lives of those we work with, and are responsible for.

Ngā mihi
Robyn Bennett
NZISM President