New health officer role

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A full-time health and safety officer is to be appointed at the Waitaki District Council, with funding for the position discussed at council’s Finance, Audit and Risk Committee meeting yesterday.

Under the Health and Safety Reform Bill currently being considered by Parliament, council is at risk of not meetings its obligations if an appropriate plan is not in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff, contractors, suppliers, visitors and volunteers.

Currently, the council has a staff member dedicated to health and safety-related training and tasks for six and a-half hours a week.

The council’s original plan was to allocate $75,000 a year to a health and safety officer to meet health and safety reforms and legislation changes being implemented this year.
However, the figure was reduced to $50,000 by the council at its meeting on December 10.

At yesterday’s meeting, the committee recommended the council retain $50,000 in its long-term plan for health and safety, with only councillor Peter Garvan not in favour of the motion.
He said he did not support it for “philosophical reasons”.

The proposal created some discussion around the council table, with Cr Jim Hopkins suggesting the money might be better spent using consultants from outside council and questioned how the development of a wellbeing programme for staff fitted into health and safety processes.

Mr Garvan asked how health and safety practices would impact the volunteer sector. Council human resources manager Lisa Baillie was not aware of exactly what impact it would have at this stage.

Cr Kathy Dennison was happy to agree to the $50,000 figure but not $75,000, while Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the council “needed to be mindful of expenditure”.

“There are a lot of companies out there in the same position . . . we must do our best to use existing resources.”

Council chief executive Michael Ross said costs could be reduced by working in conjunction with other organisations.

“Our proposal is council would employ a person and we would charge their time to NOIC (North Otago Irrigation Company) and WIC (Waitaki Irrigators Collective).”

Meanwhile, the council reported a surplus of $1.630 million for the six months to December 31, 2014.

Total income was $22.742 million, while total operating expenditure was $21.112 million.

Council chief financial officer Paul Hope said the surplus was more to do with the time of year than anything else.

“We are reporting a good surplus up to the first six months of the financial year. It’s really a matter of timing rather than any costs being saved.”

By Daniel Birchfield