Occupational Health Action Plan to 2013
3. Occupational Health Initiatives for 2011-2013
3.1.1 Consideration will be given to ensuring that the Workplace Health and Safety Council membership includes occupational health expertise. In addition, the Department of Labour will work with the Council to decide how the Council can most appropriately support the Plan’s implementation, which may include the formation of an occupational health steering or reference group.
3.1.2 OHSIG will work with its member organisations, and other stakeholders as appropriate, to develop and publish a position statement about Occupational Health in New Zealand by the end of 2012.
3.1.3 Massey University’s Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR) will host a symposium on Health and the environment at work – the need for solutions in April 2012. The two-day event will involve international keynote speakers and workshops, with a view to becoming a regular (2 yearly) occurrence supporting professional development and knowledge exchange within the Occupational Health sector.
The Department of Labour will encourage Occupational Health stakeholders to become Partners in Action with them in achieving the aims of this Action Plan.
The Department of Labour will actively foster its relationship with OHSIG and, through them, with professional groups and networks working in occupational health.
In turn, OHSIG will engage with the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ), particularly with their technical group the Maintenance Engineering Society, to work on progressing issues such as prevention by design and control of noise at source.
The Department of Labour will work with stakeholders to develop its existing Occupational Health Tools resource into a form that will meet the needs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and health and safety representatives.
The purpose of this initiative is to provide easily understandable information to workers and managers to empower them to comprehend the risks associated with exposure, the mechanisms available to manage the risks, and the remedies available to them in the event of potential harm. Resources will focus on the five priority health hazards in the first instance.
3.5 Professionalising the Occupational Hygiene sector
Occupational hygienists play an important role in providing advice on preventing exposure to biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic and psycho-social hazards, based on known science. The NZ Occupational Hygiene Society (NZOHS) is working on a strategy for increasing the capability of the profession, assisted by the Department of Labour. Potential workstreams include the development of competency standards for occupational hygienists, and reviewing the content of occupational hygiene courses with relevant academic institutions. This work will be done in line with internationally recognised standards for occupational hygiene.
3.6 Developing a National Occupational Disease Surveillance Framework
Reducing exposure to health hazards in the working population requires better surveillance of occupational disease or risks. The Department of Labour is funding a National Surveillance Framework, which will be developed by Massey University’s Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR) in late 2011 and monitored from then on by the Department of Labour on the basis of the research noted in 3.7 below. The framework initially focuses on identifying information that can be gathered from existing data bases to establish estimates of occupational prevalence. In the first year, it will focus on establishing the baseline prevalence of work-related cancers, asthma and dermatitis. The information will be developed further in order to be able to measure trends in the prevalence of occupational disease and to assess the effectiveness of interventions.
3.7.1 The Health Research Council and the Department of Labour are jointly funding a number of research projects designed to increase our knowledge associated with specific health hazards.
Over the course of 2011 until mid 2012, these research projects will be completed and findings published.
They include the following:
- Incidence and Prevalence of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
- Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
- Exposure to Carcinogens
- Occupational Dermatitis in New Zealand Cleaners
- Asthma in Sawmill Workers, and
- Workplace interventions to reduce wood dust exposures in joinery and furniture workers.
3.7.2 Massey University’s Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR) is conducting a multi-year programme of research called Building Occupational Health Research in New Zealand (BROHNZ). In addition to undertaking some of the projects already outlined in 3.7.1, they are also exploring:
- Occupational exposures and occupational health in Maori
- Neurotoxic effects of solvent exposure
- Cancer in meat workers: Identifying the causal exposures
- Occupational asthma in New Zealand cleaners
- Occupational exposures and occupational health in workers exposed to fumigants
- Occupational and Environmental risk factors for Motor Neuron Disease, and
- Parental Occupational and Environmental exposures as risk factors for Congenital Malformations.
CPHR are also using Video Exposure Monitoring (VEM) technology to assess peak exposures to a range of different workplace hazards in farmers and port workers in Australia and joiners and furniture workers in New Zealand. The technology allows for wireless real-time monitoring of an individual worker’s exposure to chemical, biological, radiological and/or physical hazards.
3.7.3 ACC will work with the Department of Labour, the Construction Safety Council and CPHR to consider the results of a small pilot project conducted in 2011 that looked at the exposure to silica-containing dust of construction workers cutting fibre-cement weatherboards. Options for further research will be explored, as well as promoting information to industry about the best ways to manage the hazard.
Workplaces have an obligation to monitor workplace hazards, including exposure to health hazards that cause occupational disease.
Over the course of 2012-2013, the Department of Labour will develop and implement a harm reduction project that focuses on reducing workers’ exposure to a priority health hazard. Resource will be directed towards priority sectors.
Healthline is an existing telephone support service funded by theMinistry of Health. It is staffed by registered nurses who assess health needs and offer support and advice to callers. The Department of Labour and the Ministry of Health will assess whether Healthline can provide support and advice on occupational health issues for workers and employers. A feasibility study will be completed by the end of 2012.
The Department of Labour is developing a formal statement outlining its approach to enforcing the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO). The document will complement the Department's statement on HSE Act enforcement, Keeping Work Safe. The Department intends to finalise the HSNO enforcement statement by early 2012, following a brief period of public consultation.
3.11 Targeting Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) at the source
ACC will continue to fund research and work with industry to develop and promote solutions for ‘noise at source’ problems that can lead to noise induced hearing loss.
Attention will be focused on high risk sectors and associated plant or processes, such as agriculture (quad bikes, milking pumps, shearing sheds and equipment), manufacturing and others.
ACC will work directly with industry, associations and other stakeholders to implement the recommendations arising from this work.
3.12 Monitoring dust exposure during the Christchurch rebuild processChristchurch rebuild process
The Department of Labour is launching a dust monitoring initiative in Christchurch. Significant amounts of dust are being generated from demolition sites as a result of the Canterbury earthquake recovery phase. Consequently, the general public, demolition crews and other contractors have the potential to be exposed to respirable dusts, nuisance particulates, asbestos fibres and free crystalline silica, resulting in long latency harm.
The initiative has two main aims:
- monitoring of dust particulates generated from demolition sites and the level of dust exposure to workers and other people in the vicinity; and
- determining what practicable steps companies should be taking to protect excavator operators inside their cabs, and the wider public, from harmful dusts.
Work began in September 2011 and will continue through until mid 2012.
3.13 Educating the next generation of workers about excessive noise
The Pindrop Foundation, supported by ACC, is working to ensure that primary school children are informed early about noise induced hearing loss and how to prevent it. The ‘Listen Up’ programme is targeted at 8-12 year olds. During a fun and highly interactive 45 minute session, students learn how to reduce their exposure to excessive noise. The lesson incorporates physics, anatomy, general science and valuable health lessons. Up to 75,000 children will receive this programme in 2012.
3.14 Reviewing Hazardous Substance Group Standards
Group standard approvals of industrial chemicals manage the risks associated with particular groups of substances with a single set of conditions.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is reviewing its Hazardous Substance Group Standards framework to identify how effective they are for importers and manufacturers to use; and how they might be improved for ease of compliance with the conditions.
3.15 Improving the safe handling of chemicals at work
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has established a programme of work focused on improving the accessibility of chemical safety information for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
This programme involves the development of a toolkit of simple, concise information about how people can manage their chemicals safely and comply with the hazardous substances legislation (HSNO). The toolkit will include a simple calculator tool that will help small and medium enterprises work out the key controls for compliance, including obtaining test certificates under HSNO.
The EPA will engage with influencers (groups who frequently interact with SMEs) to distribute the toolkit once it is completed. This is a multi-year programme with key elements of the toolkit expected to be completed by 30 June 2012. The EPA is also aiming to establish contact and develop relationships with key influencers in the same timeframe.
3.16 Reviewing the Department’s Notifiable Occupational Disease System (NODS)
The Department of Labour will lead a review of the current NODs system by 2013.
3.17 Sharing information to improve Occupational Health surveillance
The Ministry of Health maintains a Hazardous Substances Surveillance System (HSSS) through a contract with CPHR. The HSSS collates existing data sources about instances of injury caused by hazardous substances to describe:
- where injuries or illness are occurring
- how requent they are
- whether they are increasing or decreasing; and
- whether prevention efforts have been effective.
Non-identifying data captured by this system relating to occupational exposures will be shared with the Department of Labour to improve surveillance of occupational health.
The Department of Labour and Ministry of Health will also share information and work together on noise-related issues that cross the boundaries between occupational and environmental noise exposures, including during the development of standards and guidelines.
3.18 Supporting meatworkers to manage psycho-social stressors
The New Zealand Meatworkers Union is working with the Mens Health Centre to develop a "Looking out for your mates" strategy that focuses on issues affecting men (both at work and outside of work) that can have a negative effect on their workplace safety and wellbeing. The work has arisen from the need to manage the additional stresses for meatworkers brought on by the Canterbury earthquakes, and will cover a range of issues such as family violence, counselling, addiction, and family law/child access. A pilot will be developed and trialled in the Canterbury region in 2012 and a National roll-out will be considered on the basis of the pilot.
3.19 Advancing the knowledge, practice and standing of Occupational Medicine
The Australian and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) is a professional organisation which provides a focal point for the advancement of knowledge for those registered medical practitioners who are actively involved in or who are interested in Occupational Medicine. ANZSOM plan to work over the next two years to:
- form a sub-committee to look at ways to ensure under-graduate medical training in the area of Occupational Medicine can be strengthened and co-ordinated. This will involve looking at the curricula and developing a presentation that can be used in discussions with the country's training providers
- develop a series of case studies for distribution to primary care doctors that highlight the clinical pathways in the detection of occupational disease (particularly relating to the five priority health hazards of this plan); and
- develop a set of competency criteria for its members.
3.20 Strengthening the Occupational Health component of GP vocational training
In New Zealand the training involved in gaining vocational (specialist) registration as a General Practitioner takes a minimum of three years, provided through the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP). RNZCGP are currently further strengthening and expanding educational aspects of their curriculum related to Occupational Health with the assistance of Occupational Physicians.
3.21 Increasing our understanding of psycho-social work factors in New Zealand
The Healthy Work Group at Massey University will continue to conduct a bi-annual Workplace Violence study, and promote the findings to industry. In 2011, 96 organisations responded, and a full report has been posted on the Healthy Work Group website. Further research is concerned with control measures for workplace violence in the health sector.
In addition, Massey University are proposing to undertake qualitative research to identify leadership qualities that may be protective factors against workplace bullying and promote healthy work.
 CPHR welcomes the opportunity to work directly with businesses/industry organisations that want to use VEM as a monitoring tool in their workplace/sector to help understand how best to manage workers’ occupational exposures. For more information, contact CPHR@massey.ac.nz