June 3, 2012

Working on shaky ground

The EPMU is the country’s largest private sector union. They have recently given employers in general a “heads up” that they are going to try and negotiate a clause in all their agreements that the employer must establish that the buildings the workforce occupies are “earthquake safe”.

This sounds like a good idea – but as with most ideas, the devil will be in the detail.

There is a general provision in the H&SE Act for an employer to take “all practicable steps” to identify and mitigate hazards, and the definition of “all practicable steps” involves consideration of the severity of the hazard, the costs of the measures for various degrees of mitigation, and the employers resources. If an employer were to agree to an apparently innocuous clause in an employment agreement, they could well find that the ERA and the Courts held them to a higher contractual standard than the H&SE Act.

There is a further difficulty. Since a multitude of Local Authorities have adopted various engineering standards and regulations providing that buildings of various ages must meet varying percentages of the code, the standards are something of a dogs breakfast at present, and the question of what costitues “earthquake safe” is an open one.

This may become clearer when the Royal Commission considering the Christchurch earthquake brings down its report.

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