From the Board and Chief Executive

This year proved what New Zealand and WorkSafe can achieve when we set our minds to it.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Pike River Mine tragedy, WorkSafe is conscious of the mandate we were given.This was to build ourselves into an effective regulatory agency and to lead what the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety (the Independent Taskforce) described as ‘an urgent, broad based step-change in approach and a seismic shift in attitude’ across the health and safety at work system in New Zealand. At that time, our focus was directed towards improving safety in high risk sectors and industries.

New Zealand has made progress towards achieving the necessary changes set out by the Independent Taskforce. They have been achieved through significant changes and investments across the health and safety at work system. This includes new legislation, the establishment of WorkSafe as regulator, and through leadership and capability building at all levels; by our social partners, by business leaders and unions, by employers and workers, by health and safety specialists and across government agencies.

Leaders in our workplaces have assumed the important due diligence responsibilities reinforced by the new law. This has resulted in widespread improvements in how health and safety at work is being done. WorkSafe is proud of our contribution to the gains New Zealand has made. For example, New Zealand is on track to achieve our energy safety and asbestos-related disease system targets.

We also need to acknowledge that what we have achieved is not nearly enough. We all have more work to do. Our health and safety system performance still lags behind comparable countries and we know we have to address work-related ill-health. It is having a significant impact on the wellbeing of New Zealand’s workers. 

The Pike River tragedy was a strong motivator that has helped drive the changes we have seen to date. But, international evidence shows that as time passes after a catastrophic event, the improvements it drives in health and safety start to slow down. In some cases, those improvements can even go backwards. This has already begun in New Zealand.

After the Independent Taskforce, we halved our workplace fatality rates. Statistics show that we were also reducing our serious non-fatal work-related injury rates through to 2016. We all want those downward trends to continue but they are starting to stall, and our work-related injuries resulting in more than a week away from work are increasing. This reflects the challenges we all face in continuing to make gains across multiple, complex areas of harm. It tells us that we all need to reinvigorate our efforts. The good news is that we know we can come together to do this.

This year proved what New Zealand and WorkSafe can achieve when we set our minds to it.

New Zealand was united in our efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic. WorkSafe is proud of the work undertaken across New Zealand workplaces to address this new health-risk. The collective effort enabled our own response to the pandemic to be focused on engagement and education, not solely on enforcement. Our proactive calling education campaign was undertaken by 200 WorkSafe staff, along with the Ministries of Business, Innovation and Employment and Primary Industries, during the April and May 2020 Alert Levels 3 and 2. It reached over 8,000 businesses.

We are also proud of the efforts of our own people, who transitioned out of our offices and into new ways of working.We worked in leadership roles, provided technical advice, produced guidance and over 120 Inspectors undertook COVID-19 related workplace assessments and investigations, all while continuing to deliver our core regulatory activities. Although COVID-19 was a key feature of our year, this annual report shows how much we achieved in addition to our contribution to the all-of-government and all-of-New Zealand response.

Another area where we came together as an organisation was in our Whakaari/White Island response. WorkSafe is responsible for the work-related health and safety investigation. Whakaari is the biggest investigation WorkSafe has ever undertaken, and is the most complex. We have drawn skills, experience and resources from across our organisation
to support our response.

WorkSafe’s achievements over this challenging year are due to dedication of our people and our work to grow our organisation as a system leader and a modern, insights-driven regulator. We know that if we want to increase our influence on the way work is being done, to create better work and better workplaces, we have to change. With additional Government funding from the Wellbeing Budget 2019 this year we:

  • significantly built our capacity and capability to deliver work-related health programmes, establishing a new group, and new specialist teams focused on carcinogens and airborne risk, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health
  • invested in our Operations Group and Inspectorate, including initiating a review of the structure of the group and implementing a framework to support the recruitment, development and retention of our Inspectors
  • upgraded our data and intelligence capabilities through building our Advance Analytics and Artificial Intelligence capability, and invested in the technology and systems needed to support our people and our organisational modernisation programme.

This year was a challenge, but it was also an opportunity in which New Zealand showed health and safety leadership.

WorkSafe will continue to show leadership and will continue our change journey into the future. We are increasingly stepping up and into leadership roles, and supporting health and safety leadership groups. This year we supported the establishment of a cross-sector, tripartite Partners Council with Iwi and our social partners. This partnership will provide us with a new pathway, and the skills and resources, to work with Māori businesses and communities to drive health and safety at work. It is part of our continued efforts to deliver upon our Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

WorkSafe established three cross-sector tripartite health and safety groups this year. We also have three sector-focused tripartite groups. This is a key achievement that will support our work with others across our three levers of engagement, education and enforcement into the future.

Using the right levers, in the right circumstance, is our core business as a regulator and a focus of our change efforts. But, like all regulators, we recognise that we won’t ever meet all the demands being made of us. To take us closer to meeting
public expectations, and our own, we are working to modernise and to unify our efforts under our new strategic delivery plan Taura Here Waka; Strength in Every Strand. Taura Here Waka will enable us to be even more deliberate about why, when, and how we target our efforts to change the way work is done.

Into the future, New Zealand will see WorkSafe doing our work in different ways. We will be building on what works and trying new ways to reduce harm and create better, safer, healthier work across New Zealand. Although this annual report looks backward, we are looking forward to the future. A future in which we will be:

  • leveraging from our increased investment in harm prevention programmes and activities to build capability and resilience in the health and safety at work system
  • more visible and focused in how and when we use our enforcement measures and actions, ensuring that duty holders who do not meet their health and safety obligations are held to account
  • intervening in new areas, going beyond our focus on traditional high-risk sectors and looking more closely at areas where risk is emerging in sectors like transport, and at high-risk work practices
  • putting extra resources into programmes to reduce the disproportionately high fatality and injury rates of Māori workers
  • improving the way we deal with victims and their families when the worst has happened,so that they understand the actions we are taking and the reasons why.

New Zealanders have increasingly high expectations of us. We will do everything we can to meet them.

We will also challenge others to make a measureable difference to health and safety at work. We all need to find new and better ways of doing our work so that businesses and organisations can achieve their purposes, and workers can prosper in a healthy and safe environment. Only with better work can we be sure everyone will come home healthy and safe.

[image] headshots of Ross, Paula and Phil

Statement of responsibility

The Board is responsible for the preparation of WorkSafe’s statement of performance and financial statements and for the judgements made in them. We are responsible for any end-of-year performance information provided by WorkSafe under section 19A of the Public Finance Act 1989. We have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining a system of internal control designed to provide reasonable assurance as to the integrity and reliability of financial and services performance reporting. In our opinion, the statement of performance and financial statements fairly reflect the operations and financial position of WorkSafe New Zealand for the year ended 30 June 2020