Tag Archives: health and safety

Beware of belittling

We discussed bullying in an article not so long ago, and workplaces continue to be fraught with bullies and their victims. Thus, we continue our quest to help employers and employees recognise bullying behaviour and deal with it appropriately.

Bullying behaviour may not be instantly recognisable, or you may not be able to point to one particular incident of bullying. Often bullying comprises of an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Many people do not realise that the unfavourable behaviour directed towards them is “bullying” behaviour. Victims may not want to report the behaviour for fear of not being taken seriously, or being told to “harden up”. Employers may see a victim as being overly sensitive rather than genuinely investigating their concerns. If bullying behaviour is not dealt with appropriately it can have detrimental effects on both the employer and the victim(s). Bullying is not something to be tossed aside and ignored.

Bullying behaviour includes (but is not limited to): 

  • using fowl or offensive language
  • nitpicking, fault-finding or trivial criticism
  • making threats
  • sarcasm, hostility or rudeness
  • interrupting
  • belittling
  • providing instructions without reasonable explanation
  • setting unreasonable goals or deadlines
  • refusing reasonable requests without justification
  • excessive scrutiny
  • refusal to acknowledge contributions or achievements
  • attempts to undermine value and worth
  • isolating, treating differently
  • denying training necessary to fulfil duties
  • initiating disciplinary procedures for trivial reasons

A notable decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia is an excellent example of the importance of addressing bullying behaviour appropriately. In Swan v Monash Law Book Cooperative [2013] VSC 326 the employer was ordered to pay a total of just under $600,000 in damages to an employee who had been bullied over a 5 year period. It was found that the employer:

  • failed to properly define relations and expectations concerning workplace conduct;
  • failed to appropriately train employees to deal appropriately with bullying behaviour and complaints;
  • failed to consider appropriate measures to address inappropriate conduct, and a failure to inform the bully that his behaviour was inappropriate;
  • failed to intervene and investigate complaints within a timely manner when complaints were first raised;
  • failed to have a formal structure or complaints mechanism in place for employees to seek assistance when bullying occurred;
  • failed to monitor the situation;
  • failed to have a safe return to work strategy.

The Supreme Court’s decision demonstrates the onerous obligations on employers to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, and the high risks employer face if they do not comply. It is not enough to simply change a victims’ reporting lines, or transfer a bully from one team to another. Bullying can often occur because of a workplace’s culture or lack of policies and procedures addressing suitable and acceptable behaviour. Not only do these policies have to exist, but they need to be implemented appropriately and efficiently.

While New Zealand is slightly lagging behind Australia in relation to health and safety laws, and certainly in terms of compensatory awards in bullying cases, WorkSafe NZ’s bullying guidelines released in February indicate we are following in Australia’s footsteps in recognising the importance of cracking down on bullying behaviour. It is vital that employers have appropriate measures in place to deal with bullies and victims.

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A Weighty Issue

Weight bias and discrimination has the potential to become the new racism. Are you an “obesist”? Or a “fatist” (as they like to call it in my office)?

The reality is that around 1 in 4 New Zealand adults are classified as obese. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic which can have serious consequences for employers and employees. Example: what happens when a job candidate applying to wait tables at your crazy-busy street cafe has stellar credentials, but he is overweight and you worry he won’t be able to keep up with the frantic pace on his feet for 10 hours a day? Can you refuse to hire him because you think he is too large?  obesity

The Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993 govern the grounds of discrimination in the workplace. “Obesity” is not specifically referred to as a prohibited ground for discrimination, but “disability” is. Thus it begs the question – is obesity a disability? Disability is defined as:

  • physical disability or impairment;
  • physical illness;
  • psychiatric illness;
  • intellectual or psychological disability or impairment;
  • any other loss or abnormality or psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or function;
  • reliance on a guide dog, wheelchair, or other remedial means;
  • the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing illness.

While obesity may not be a “disability” per se, it may be a significant factor in finding that a person has a disability. Another thought to ponder: what if a person’s obesity is a symptom of a medical condition? Should we distinguish between cause and effect?

The UK judiciary have been faced with some difficult cases recently surrounding obesity issues in the workplace. While they have refused to accept obesity is a disability in its own right, they have concluded that an obese person may be disabled if their obesity has a real impact on their ability to participate in work.

In New Zealand, an employer can specify particular physical characteristics only if those characteristics are essential in order to perform the job satisfactorily, or in order to meet safety requirements. There must be a real and genuine reason for doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RISKY BUSINESS

safetyIn the past few months the newspapers have been inundated with stories of workplace accidents where employers have been ordered to fork out tens of thousands in fines and compensation.

  • Canpac was ordered to pay $35,000 to an employee who had lost part of her finger in a slitter machine.
  • Centrelink (Australia) was ordered to pay  compensation to an employee who suffered from an anxiety and depressive disorder after being told she was required to work between the hours of 8am – 4pm Monday-Friday.
  • The Court ordered Wealleans Groundspread Ltd to pay over $100k for failing to protect the safety of workers following the death of an employee who was operating a truck adapted to spread fertiliser.
  • Last year, 51 people were killed in workplace accidents in New Zealand.

Proposed changes to the law

Worksafe New Zealand was established to reduce our workplace injury and death toll by 25% by 2020. The incentive arose from the Pike River disaster, in which 29 of our men perished. The Health and Safety Reform Bill is a much-needed piece of legislation to protect the health and safety of our workers. The Bill allows for greater participation from all workers to get involved in health and safety discussions in the workplace. There will be higher legal requirements placed on managers and company directors to manage risk, and to ensure a safe working environment. At present the penalties for non-compliance range from $250k – $500k and 2 years imprisonment. The suggested penalties in the new Bill range from $300k – $3m and up to 5 years imprisonment – plenty of reasons to not be caught short of full compliance.

simpsonsThe Bill means that there can be no passing the buck, nor is there any room for ignorance. Directors and senior managers must be aware of the positive duties imposed on them and their obligations under the new legislation.

Similarly, employees should be aware of health and safety risks/requirements and should raise any concerns with their employer. A worker was recently fired from Top Energy for not following safety procedures. The Employment Relations Authority found that the employer was justified in terminating the employment due to the employee’s failure to follow safety procedures which resulted in a serious situation – his own electrocution. Therefore it is up to everyone in the workplace, not just employers/managers, to ensure safety comes first.

A Focus on Occupational Health

Worksafe also aims to focus on occupational health. You don’t need to be working in a dangerous physical environment for your health to suffer. Workplace hazards which need to be managed include physical, mechanical, biological, chemical and psychological. In particular, there are many psychological stresses on employees, such as:risk assessment

  • Long working hours
  • Large workloads
  • Tight deadlines
  • Work intensification
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Feelings of job insecurity
  • Ageing workforce
  • High emotional demands
  • Learning and adapting to new technology

Directors and managers must recognise and control potential hazards. Education and a broad knowledge of the legal requirements and duties imposed on individuals will be extremely important to avoid accidents or penalties moving forward. Liability will be based on the new standard set to kick in early 2015.

For further information or advice to ensure compliance, contact BuckettLaw – the employment law experts.

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A Rugby Yarn

Q: How do you get a message home to a nation of gun ho kiwis who grew up with a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to safety?

A: A rugby analogy

So… We fill Eden park right, four times.. For the sake of the story let’s say four Rugby World Cup matches, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.  The stadium is full to the brim. Thousands of fans, all there to see the boys in black.

But, during each game, around about the point when the crowd is thinking “Oo that’s a bit close for comfort” and ponders if the ABs can make it through a World Cup without choking, something goes horribly wrong. Panic spreads, mayhem ensues.

At the end of the weekend 100 people are dead, 25,000 have been hurt severely enough to be off work at least a week,  370 have been admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a life threatening condition  and more than 190,000 are hurt badly enough to send a claim off to the folks at ACC. Every single man woman and child that went to watch those games has been hurt. The cost of the carnage, $3.5 billion.

It’s front page news, worldwide, Thousands Maimed in Rugby Disaster, New Zealand’s Darkest Day. 

OK, so it’s a little far-fetched, no analogy is perfect, but it gets the message through. That’s how many people get injured in the workplace each year, according to the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, the job in hand, cutting that number by 25%, one full Eden park. No mean feat.

Likely outcomes? A large-scale cracking down on those at the top, meaning heftier fines and penalties for companies and directors. Even our biggest fines fall far short of Australia‘s. ( And we all know how much we hate falling short of anything particularly when it comes to the ‘strayans).

So while we look across the ditch and ramp up our fines your company might get caught in the spotlight. The spotlight will be expensive.

Check your health and safety policy before it’s too late. Be proactive, check with us if you need help with the nitty-gritty.

Want a few more details?

Click the link below.

http://www.buckettlaw.co.nz/Site/articles/2012_Health_and_Safety.aspx

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