• Sheri Greenwell
    Since 2000, I have worked with groups to conduct collaborative reviews of relevant legislation and regulatory changes - e.g., HSNO, HSWA, H&S Regulations, EPA (the latest). We have found the group approach to be particularly effective because discussions amongst a group of people result in much greater depth of understanding of what is being proposed, likely workplace / business implications, and ideas for what else could be done.

    Preparing a meaningful submission is no small undertaking. So my colleagues and I find it very curious that so many calls for submissions on so many important pieces of legislation or regulatory frameworks occur at the end of the year, spanning the Christmas - New Year holiday period, with submissions typically due in mid-late January - from mid-December, most businesses are gearing up for end of year activities and holidays. Individuals are typically busy both at work and on the personal front with the same focus. In January, the holidays mode typically persists until the beginning of February, after Waitangi Day, summer holidays and the start of the new school year. So with all the pressure of work activities and family / personal activities, how likely is it that most people would add to the pressure and take on additional work at this time?

    I have noticed this pattern over many years, so this is not a one-off occurrence (EPA is currently calling for submissions and I am not able to take time to participate with my usual group this time). Ever since HSNO became law, we started seeing frequent calls for submissions put out in early December with a deadline for late January, and it has always seemed doomed to languish at that time of year.

    I have long wondered what drives regulatory agencies to call for submissions at this time of year (December-January), because it doesn't seem to make sense from the perspective of getting many meaningful submissions back. Are regulators hoping to minimize comments to make the task easier for themselves? Have regulators / policy analysts found themselves facing the end of the calendar year and feel the need to push it out to meet a KPI in their annual plan? Is the regulator's own workload somehow lighter at this time and / or they assume it is lighter for others because of the holiday period?

    Does anyone have any insights on how this occurs?

    Does anyone else have an opinion about timing of calls for submissions on regulatory changes?
  • Andrew
    I've written loads of submissions and been in front of a few Select Committees so heres my somewhat cynical view.

    We live in a democracy where the government is required to follow a prescribed process (Bill reading, Submission, Select Committee, Final Bill etc). Sometimes the whole democracy idea gets chucked out the window a Bill gets passed under urgency no submissions required.

    When there is a submission process, this is done simply to give a veneer of "consultation". In reality though you actually have game playing. On one hand you have the Government Departments and their advisors putting their oar in during a drafting stage. Sometimes these people have an idea of what happens outside of Wellington. Sometimes not.

    Then you have the Select Committee which hears the submissions, and the Committee is made up of Members of different parties. All they want to do is point score. Some will take the time to read your Submission but on several occasions I came across Committee Members who hadn't even read the Bill - it was only in meeting with the MP out of the Committee process I was able to highlight some of the aspects of a Bill they clearly wernt aware of.

    So you take these constituent parts and add in work. They don't want to do much - or at least keep their work load to a minimum. So they don't really want lots of submissions. And the best way to avoid receiving Submissions is to either ask for them over holiday periods, or ask for them with very short time frames.

    Then bear in mind the back room deals that are made between the Parties. At the moment Labour will give NZ First something for their support etc etc. Greens wil be tossed the occasional bone. So your Submission will get ignored. Or Labour (for example) has to be seen to be giving something back to its voter base (eg unions) so the Union Submission is the only one that will be taken seriously.

    I"ll give you one working example - Holidays legislation. This is just one huge cluster f#%K of political shenanigans. You would think paying a person for a day off on holiday would be easy. But by listening to a union and ignoring submissions we have ended up with law where no-one (and I mean no-one) can comply. And as a result we probably have in the region of over a $billion in arrears being calculated - and stil no solution.

    Or take the HSWA. Submissions essentially ignored and we just copied, in essence, Australian legislation.

    You and I are just little free wheeling cogs in a large machine. It looks like our submission is important - but in reality its the big cogs that actually connect to something that count.

    Its a fascinating process - but it helps to understand the bigger picture games that are constantly being played.
  • Kathryn Maloney
    While I may not be quite as cynical as Andrew, I am bemused by the fact that the Government is planning to put the question of end of life choice to a referendum when the largest number of submissions ever received by a Select Committee was with regard to this bill (38,000, of which over 90 percent were against the bill). Admittedly, there will have been some changes made to the bill post-Select Committee (hopefully in light of the submissions), but to me it seems that Government may not be valuing the submission process as highly as was ever intended by our Parliament (and I think this current Government is not alone in this attitude).

    I've pondered the reasons for the upcoming referendum and am reaching conclusion that Government doesn't believe submissions represent the will and voice of the people and that it needs to give people a second chance to express their thoughts. Maybe that's true ... in this day and age, can people really be bothered making a submission when they can express their preference via a Facebook poll?!

    One idea is for Safeguard to manage any submission processes around legal and regulatory changes in health and safety in New Zealand by conducting a poll on everything!

    (With apologies for my cynicism and sarcasm!)
  • Sheri Greenwell
    Thanks, Andrew - you confirmed everything I had suspected! So maybe these issues such as not actually reading documents and submissions are not confined to just the US GOP.....
  • Sheri Greenwell
    I can well imagine that there are probably many submissions that are based more on opinions, emotions and personal perspectives than those based on objective facts to support a position. That must be very tedious to try to wade through.

    Since 2000, I have usually worked with a small, committed group of people to go through the proposed legislation, prepare comments and make submissions. We have made quite an effort to leverage our collective knowledge, skills and experience in order to make meaningful submissions. It's quite disappointing to have these disregarded by regulatory agencies and personnel who cannot be bothered to read and consider with similar commitment.

    All the same, I aim to do whatever I can to ensure I am appropriately informed and understand the issues. I can't control what they do with my submission, but I also live by the maxim that 'Silence implies consent." We really don't have justification to complain if we have not spoken up. I remember when the Health and Safety Reform Bill Discussion Document was issued, and members of NZISM met to hear from a legal expert what the issues were. The lawyer asked the group (probably about 40 people) who had actually read all or part of that voluminous document, and only 4 of us raised our hands! Yet this legal framework was going to be a key influence on the direction, activities and expectations of our profession!

    I know people are busy with their jobs, but we all have the same amount of time every day; it's all about what you value enough to prioritize it. When we were reviewing the MBIE Discussion Documents, the people in our group were all very busy with their jobs during the day, so I invited them to come to my house one evening per week, working through one chapter each week for five weeks. We sat at my dining room table and worked solidly for about 1 1/2 hours, then we would have a cup of tea and some of my baking as we wrapped things up. At the end of our process, we had each made an individual submission as well as a group submission, which we copied to Responsible Care NZ as well. My key point here is that we were all committed enough to make it happen.

    In addition, the collaborative approach adds immense value because the group discussions and contributions from a greater variety of individual perspectives and experience mean that each person finishes up understanding existing and proposed frameworks far more comprehensively - including what they ARE and what they ARE NOT, which equips us to manage and lead much more effectively.

    In addition, the collaborative group approach has also given us the opportunity to share the load so it is easier to get through it. When changes to the Hazardous Substances Regulations were proposed more recently, one of the group members invited us to join her at her workplace for discussions. We agreed to divide up the regulations amongst members, with different people taking responsibility for the various parts of the regulations. At that time, I was least directly involved in handling hazardous substances, so I offered to take minutes of all our discussions, thus involving myself more deeply with the dialogue. The minutes were then available to each member of the group so they could develop their own individual submissions as well as having the notes for future reference in their own business.

    Meanwhile, I live in hope that we won't have to keep running into metaphorical brick walls with ineffective / inappropriate regulatory frameworks, and that one day someone is going to listen a little more carefully to suggestions, rather than just waiting until the political pressure that develops from a disaster spurs them into action!

    I was pleasantly surprised to see WorkSafe / MBIE taking the initiative and using a world café type approach last year, where they presented the context, then operated 3 short sessions with small groups around tables, each table with a specific theme to explore. Each table was attended by a representative of WorkSafe or MBIE, who collated comments, summed them up and presented them back at the end of the interactive session, then was charged with taking those comments back to the office to include in their considerations. It was a big step in the right direction in terms of achieving meaningful feedback, getting people involved, and supporting people to understand more of the regulatory requirements.
  • Peter Bateman
    Re your suggestion that Safeguard runs the submissions process for any H&S issue. Genius! We could take your idea and go a step further. Since health & safety people are known throughout the land for their wisdom and modesty, and are universally popular, why not restrict the franchise to Safeguard subscribers only?

    I can't imagine why anyone could possibly object to this.

    And with that thought I'll wish all Forum members a Merry Christmas! I look forward to further interesting discussions in 2020. We recently passed 900 Forum members. Perhaps next year we'll crack 1000? Spread the word - all are welcome!
  • Kathryn Maloney
    Peter, LOL! Merry Christmas to you and looking forward to many more robust discussions through this forum next year.
Add a Comment

Welcome to the Safeguard forum!

If you are interested in workplace health & safety in New Zealand, then this is the discussion forum for you.