A critical analysis of the regulation of workplace health hazards in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Massey University
This thesis is concerned with the health problems of the working environment and looks at ways in which these problems may be better controlled by regulation. After considering the historical background, the nature and extent of those problems, they are examined and their source established. Their real extent is unknown and probably much greater than generally appreciated but there is a dearth of reliable data and available statistics. There are thus many instances where the work connection of a disease may be strongly suspected but proof is lacking. The considerable research undertaken overseas has been examined and it emerges that the effectiveness of regulation is often far from certain with some disappointing results evident from some studies. The current trend to greater self-regulation also brings with it conflict and misunderstanding. The consensus is that though a great deal more must be done within the individual workplace, that does not remove the need for an effective well-resourced enforcement agency ensuring that industry complies with the statutes, regulations and codes of practice. Recognising the limits to the impact the enforcers are able to make and the fact that many injury and disease-provoking situations are not subject to regulation, there is a need for the total workforce to be involved in a positive and informed way. This may be aided by more formal methods with the establishment of joint management-labour health and safety committees and the appointment of workers' health and safety representatives or encouraging the less formal participation of the total workforce. It is considered that only by the introduction of a participative approach, can the management of health and safety proceed beyond mere compliance with the law, an objective necessary to ensure the most effective influence. Regrettably there still remains considerable reluctance on the part of many managements to accept that view. It is suggested that reasons for this lie in a lack of a true understanding of causation combined with a tendency to blame the victim. The link between prevention and compensation is also considered. If too demanding standard of proof is required to establish a compensation claim, it is highly likely that preventive measures will not be instituted. The problem of proof raises many difficulties but a compensation authority should approach its task in an investigative manner giving all possible help to the claimant. There is a clear need for a more informed workforce, management and inspectorate. This and better control of hazardous substances and the exposure thereto, will be much improved if a small but well resourced National Institute of Public Health is established. As hazardous substances are the product of industry, being not only used in industry but also in the wider environment, it is illogical to have a separate Hazards Control Commission as provided in the Resource Management Act 1991. Of all the measures suggested, possibly the most important would be the intensification of the participative approach embodying adequate education and training. This calls for a change in the stance of many managements and a move to ensuring that workers and managers can negotiate on equal terms; in today's buzz words, on the much vaunted level playing field.