The Health and Safety at Work Act (2015) can be summarized in a couple of key sentences.
The first one goes something like this. “Everyone in an organization is required to take a risk-based approach to health and safety, engage with workers and other stakeholders to manage risks, and take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers and those affected by work activities.”
The second one is smaller but carries a lot of weight. “Health refers to both physical and mental health.”
Combining those two sentences we get the following. “All organisation’s are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the mental health and safety of their workers.”
This leads to a couple of key questions.
What does reasonably practicable mean, and what are the reasonably practicable steps an organisation can take to ensure the metal health and safety of their people and workplace?
All ‘reasonably practicable steps’ is not defined in HSWA 2015, instead this is left up to the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis. However, PCBU’s are expected to do everything that is reasonably able to be done to ensure health and safety considering the following.
- The nature of the work.
- The risks involved.
- The available resources.
- The current state of knowledge about the risks and the ways of eliminating or minimizing them.
This means that a PCBU must balance the cost, time and effort required to take a particular step against the degree of risk involved. If the time, cost, and effort to take a particular steps are much larger than the risk involved, then it may not be ‘reasonably practicable’ to take that step.
Put it another way this means that if a PCBU knows about a risk, knows that something can be put in place to eliminate or minimize it, and the cost, time and effort is not too great, then this is something that they need to do.
If we look at the four points above in terms of mental health and safety, that will give us a bit of a picture of the current state of play.
The nature of construction work does produce additional risks to mental wellbeing more so than other industries. Construction has the highest rate of suicide for any New Zealand industry, and this is the apex of the triangle. Beneath it sits a mountain of workers with varying degrees of wellbeing concerns. This means that we all know that the risk is very large, and our investment in time and resources needs to be proportionate to this.
Current resources include Mates in Construction, EAP services, and other organisations and apps which can monitor and report on currents states of wellbeing as well as providing ‘bottom of the cliff responses’ following a mental health diagnosis.
But what of the ‘fence at the top’? Many organisations are proactively identifying mental health risks and designing mentally safe work processes and procedures. And just because your organisation may not know about them, this does not mean that you are meeting your requirements under the act.
If this is the case, then the first practicable step to take is to register for the Safety Charter’s Mentally Safe Work Conference on Thursday, 29th June. Here you will learn about managing and mitigating psycho-social risk, what good practice looks like, and what you are legally required to do.
The longest journey starts with the first step…….
Paul Duggan, General Manager