Magazine article New Zealand Management

Stress: The Wear and Tear of Work; We Are Working Longer and Harder Than We Were a Decade Ago and, Say the Experts, the Wear and Tear Is Taking Its Toll. but Do Employers Accept That They Have a Greater Responsibility to Look after the Health and Wellbeing of Their People? No, Says the Government. There Is Only So Much We Can Afford to Do, Counter Many Employers. What Is the Truth of the Matter? (Health and Safety)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Stress: The Wear and Tear of Work; We Are Working Longer and Harder Than We Were a Decade Ago and, Say the Experts, the Wear and Tear Is Taking Its Toll. but Do Employers Accept That They Have a Greater Responsibility to Look after the Health and Wellbeing of Their People? No, Says the Government. There Is Only So Much We Can Afford to Do, Counter Many Employers. What Is the Truth of the Matter? (Health and Safety)

Article excerpt

If the Government passes its proposed changes to the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, stress and mental fatigue will be recognised as occupational hazards. The prospect has many employers worried. They are concerned at the possible punitive repercussions of implementing the Health and Safety in Employment Bill.

Changes proposed in the legislation include hefty increases in penalties (up to $500,000) for enforcement misdemeanours, and greater staff and union participation in identifying and reporting health and safety processes and infringements.

By including stress as an occupational hazard, the Government has effectively signalled that it wants organisations to take a more holistic approach to considering health and safety management issues. "What is and has been prescribed is what any responsible employer should already be doing. Increased fines or increased staff participation will only concern those that currently don't take health and safety seriously," says Tower New Zealand chief executive, Jim Minto.

But, he accepts there is a nervousness about the interpretation and application of the Act in respect to stress. "We acknowledge that certain work situations can be stressful and we therefore have a responsibility to minimise that. Our concern is where the line is drawn between stress brought into the workplace from people's personal lives versus stress created in the workplace."

Minto predicts a "potential minefield" if accountability and blame is apportioned exclusively to the employer saying, test cases will need to be viewed very closely once this legislation is enacted.

With Labour re-elected, Minto expects refinements to employment legislation as unions exert more pressure, a stronger push towards collective bargaining for example. "Without Laila Harre driving it [the new health and safety legislation] however, it may be less of a priority and perhaps a little more conservative in its outcome."

Stress is already covered as a workplace hazard but the proposed new legislation highlights the issue, according to Christina Rogstad, general manager of sales and distribution with Southern Cross Healthcare.

"New Zealand businesses have accepted that ill health significantly reduces profits. HR people, employees and other agencies (such as the Mental Health Foundation) must work in partnership to look at the management of the injury, physical and emotional health package," she explains.

Rogstad believes that organisations must start by identifying employees who are not coping. The Southern Cross programme, HealthWorks, manages health risk with health and wellbeing programmes for staff, health insurance providing immediate access to healthcare and then measures the overall changes in health, absenteeism and productivity.

And the company is working with the Mental Health Foundation on a pilot project to identify and manage emotional health issues in the workplace.

The general manager of Blackmores NZ, Alison Quesnel, is positive about the current climate of health and safety in our workplaces. "Most leading companies are already applying a responsible and holistic approach to their staff wellbeing. Employers realise the benefits of a win-win situation.

"The days of rigid procedures for signing-in and out and the staff working until 7pm because the boss does it are long gone."

But, says Quesnel, top management sets the examples and the standards. "In a healthy workplace, management must lead by example. In the last five years, there have been huge improvements with more flexible working practices such as job sharing, working from home and leave to care for children and elderly family members."

Auckland University lecturer Dr Felicity Lamm sums up New Zealand's current health and safety record in the workplace in one word; "appalling". Lamm completed her PhD researching OSH procedures in New Zealand and Australia. …

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