Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Managerial Attitudes toward the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015): An Exploratory Study of the Construction Sector

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Managerial Attitudes toward the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015): An Exploratory Study of the Construction Sector

Article excerpt


While the majority of workers in developed countries take for granted that going to work on a daily basis does not compromise their safety (Barling, Kelloway & Loughlin, 2002), New Zealand's poor occupational safety statistics suggests that they should think otherwise. Every year, thousands of New Zealanders are killed or injured at work, and between 600 and 900 people die from work-related illnesses. The financial impact of these accidents is estimated to cost the New Zealand government on average $3.5 billion per year (MBIE, 2012). The immense human costs of these tragedies offer an equally disheartening perspective. On average, one person per week dies from a work-related accident and 15 people die prematurely due to occupational ill health (WorkSafe, 2016). The New Zealand government has responded to these statistics by announcing major changes to the national occupational health and safety legislation.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) (2015) is part of the government's "Working Safer" reforms that aim to create a 25 per cent reduction in workplace deaths and injuries by 2025. The government has acknowledged that changing the occupational health and safety legislation is only the first step towards achieving this goal. A significant factor affecting its success lies in changing the safety culture within New Zealand workplaces. Results from a national survey commissioned by WorkSafe, New Zealand's health and safety regulator, suggests that high-risk industries house cultural characteristics that negatively affect health and safety performance (Nielsen, 2014). Of these high-risk industries, construction has been highlighted as being particularly complacent about health and safety, despite its high accident and injury rates. Between 2011 and February 2016, the construction sector contributed the second highest national workplace fatalities by industry (Statistics New Zealand, 2016). The industry accounted for a total of 68 fatal accidents between 2008 and 2014, averaging at almost 10 per year. Nielsen's (2014) study suggested that there was a general disbelief of the high accident rates reported in construction and there was a lack of urgency to address the issue of health and safety.

The purpose of this investigation is to examine the attitudes that managers in New Zealand's construction industry have towards occupational health and safety and the HSWA (2015). The government aims to create positive shifts in New Zealand's safety culture and performance by making greater levels of managerial commitment and employee involvement mandatory under the new legislation. It is designed so that these requirements will eventually lead New Zealanders to change their attitudes towards occupational health and safety, resulting in the practice of safer behaviours at work. This research assesses whether the government's desired changes have begun to take effect within the construction sector, and whether managers within the industry believe that increases in managerial commitment and worker involvement required by the new legislation will improve the safety culture and performance.

Safety Climate and Safety Performance

Following from Schneider's (1975) work on organisational climates, Zohar (1980) introduced the concept of safety climate as, "a summary of molar perceptions that employees share about their work environment," (p.96). Typically, the term safety climate is used within the literature to describe employees' perceptions of the significance of safety in their work environment (Neal, Hart & Griffin, 2000; Choudhry, Fang & Mohamed, 2007). Safety climate research has become increasingly popularised over the last three decades as an observable manifestation of safety culture (Mearns, Whitaker & Flin, 2003). Given that safety climate acts as a frame of reference for the behaviours and attitudes of both groups of and individual employees, there is an argument that this will influence their accident involvement (Clarke, 2006). …

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