WorkSafe has an important role in leading professional health and safety workforce development, identified as an area for improvement by the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety in 2013.

The Government’s Health and Safety at Work Strategy launched at the end of 2018 also recognises that building the professional workforce is among the key actions needed to improve New Zealand’s health and safety outcomes.

Health and safety professionals focus on improving health and safety at work. They follow a career pathway involving education, training and significant experience, and they are usually members of a professional body. Health and safety professionals contribute to health and safety in several ways, including:

  • helping businesses and organisations with health and safety planning
  • providing specialist advice and services to identify and control specific risks
  • educating workers and supporting their participation
  • providing technical expertise within WorkSafe and other public agencies.

WorkSafe works closely with and supports the Health and Safety Association of New Zealand (HASANZ), which is the umbrella body for health and safety professions. Ten associations representing eight professional disciplines are full HASANZ members.

These are:

  • the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians
  • Hazardous Substances Professionals New Zealand
  • the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of New Zealand
  • the New Zealand Institute of Hazardous Substances Management
  • the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management
  • the New Zealand Occupational Hygiene Society
  • the New Zealand Occupational Health Nurses Association
  • the New Zealand Safety Council
  • Occupational Therapy New Zealand - Whakaora Ngangahau Aotearoa, and
  • Physiotherapy New Zealand (Occupational Health Group).

Last year, WorkSafe supported HASANZ research into the state of the current professional health and safety workforce. HASANZ’s Building the Professions report identified a number of challenges including:

  • supply shortfalls
  • inconsistent competency frameworks
  • limited access to appropriate education and training pathways
  • a need to improve understanding of what different disciplines do and their benefit to workers and businesses.

To help address these challenges, WorkSafe is supporting a number of workforce development projects, in conjunction with HASANZ and the relevant professional bodies.

Work began in May to explore options for a dedicated postgraduate programme in occupational health nursing, and to provide mentoring and skills training in occupational health for registered nurses. Occupational health nurses work across many areas of work health and safety and provide a link to the wider health system.

Development of a New Zealand competency framework for health and safety generalists also began in May this year. Health and safety generalists help organisations identify and manage health and safety risks, and they are the professional group most frequently employed within businesses. The project is also reviewing current education programmes for health and safety generalists and looking at options for raising standards.

At the end of last year, work commenced to develop a competency framework and education and training material for hazardous substances compliance certifiers. These professionals certify that businesses working with hazardous substances comply with regulations. WorkSafe manages the hazardous substances compliance regime and compliance certifiers. The project also includes a strategy to attract people to work in this specialised field.

In 2018 a project was started to build the occupational hygienist workforce. Occupational hygienists specialise in identifying and controlling hazardous exposures that put worker health at risk. This project involves improving access to skills training and supporting trainee occupational hygienists with dedicated scholarships and mentoring. So far, 10 people have received scholarships and mentoring.

Options to offer New Zealand-based masters-level qualifications are also being explored. Occupational hygienists currently have to complete their training through overseas institutions. Since the project started there has been a 45% increase in the number of trained occupational hygienists in New Zealand.

Priority has been given to addressing capacity and capability gaps that will make the biggest difference to health and safety outcomes and the urgency of challenges the different health and safety professions are dealing with.

WorkSafe will consider supporting other workforce development projects that align with its strategic priorities.

For more information, read the HASANZ report(external link) (PDF 2.2MB).