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Address to Annual Occupational Health and Safety Conference

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Hon Judith Collins, Minister for ACC, 19 April 2012, Address to 16th Annual Occupational Health and Safety Conference, Northern EMA -

Good morning.

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you this morning.

It's great to be here.

Given the spotlight that has been on the corporation in recent weeks, this is a good time for me to set out the Government's priorities for the next few years.

Since 1974, ACC has provided comprehensive, no-fault personal injury cover for all residents and visitors to our country.

It remains a unique and world-leading initiative.

This Government strongly supports the right of all New Zealanders to access what is an efficient and comprehensive accident compensation scheme.

ACC's critics often forget what would happen if we didn't have it - a return to the days of workers compensation, and the right to sue for damages with all the litigation, uncertainty, delay and cost that involved.

Of course the ACC scheme does not cover everything. It was not designed to.

But what it does do, it should do superbly well.

Good progress has been made over the last three years.

ACC's financial situation has turned around.

It has returned to a sound financial position and made positive investment returns in a difficult investment climate.

At the same time, ACC's focus on rehabilitation has increased, helping claimants get back to work earlier.

The number of people who have been off work for more than a year has dropped from 14,000 to 11,000.

Employers and the self-employed are now 'experience-rated' and no-claims bonuses are available, increasing the incentives for safer workplaces.

On April 1, reduced levies came into effect that save business and employees more than half a billion dollars each year.

For an average small business with around seven employees - that's worth around $1120.

Looking ahead for ACC, we want this progress to continue.

We want an ACC system that delivers world class services to the people and organisations that use it, and to the people and organisations that fund it.

Now that ACC is in a good financial position, it has an opportunity to turn its focus to rebalancing its strategic objectives.

We would like to see a renewed focus in ACC towards a rebalance of the broader responsibilities it has to all New Zealanders.

It must ensure entitlements are delivered transparently and fairly to those who need them.

It must focus on preventing injuries, meet the highest standards of best practice and service, and achieve outcomes that are consistent with the spirit of ACC's pioneering objectives.

It is essential that Kiwis are able to trust in ACC and its integrity.

The Government wants people to be proud of ACC.

We also want ACC and its staff to be proud of the work they do.

A high priority for ACC is to promote and rebuild the trust and confidence the public can rightly expect to have in the corporation.

For claimants with a genuine need and a right to support, ACC must follow a fair process for assessing their eligibility and ensuring they receive fair entitlements.

I expect ACC to be sensitive, responsive, and provide an excellent and timely service that reflects best practice and is consistent with the law.

That does not mean ACC will, or should be, a 'soft touch' for people who try to take advantage of the system.

ACC must strictly apply its legislative criteria, while still preserving public trust and confidence.

I cannot emphasise enough how seriously I view recent privacy-related issues.

Understandably, these matters have undermined people's confidence in ACC and the service it provides.

I believe privacy and information security is the biggest issue facing ACC at present.

At this stage, I am not yet satisfied ACC's privacy provisions and protocols are appropriate, or are being complied with to the level they should be.

The ACC board has assured me it will cooperate fully with the independent review of ACC privacy and information security.

The review has been commissioned in conjunction with the Privacy Commissioner and ACC will implement the recommendations of that review.

There are, however, many systems and processes that can be strengthened immediately. This work must be a high priority for ACC.

I want to touch briefly on how ACC fits more broadly into the Government's Better Public Services programme.

This programme sets clear priorities for delivering high quality services and reducing waste.

These priorities will also guide ACC's on-going work and support the corporation to continually review its frontline services to maximise improvements for businesses and claimants.

We want to see levies held at relatively stable levels while maintaining incentives for employers to prevent and manage injuries.

There needs to be a continued focus on controlling costs and astutely managing investments, especially in light of the global economic environment.

We have also said that employers will have more choice in how workplace accident compensation is delivered.

I won't be announcing the details of our new direction on increasing employer choice today.

I can advise this work is progressing well and announcements will be made in due course.

We are taking time to make sure we get this right.

We want to make sure the end result will benefit employers and employees alike.

Our main goal is to lift the scheme to a new level of service delivery - meaning fewer workplace injuries, and a faster return to normal daily living for people who have been injured.

Improvements to the scheme will offer employers choice only where it makes good sense to do so.

Whatever improvements are made to the delivery of workplace compensation, ACC will remain an important and significant organisation.

ACC is delivering on Better Public Services.

The corporation has been trialling a new employer-centric model to improve the services it delivers to businesses.

Under this model, ACC staff work directly with some large employers to provide co-ordinated delivery of services and help to get injured staff back to work sooner.

ACC is now evaluating the results of this programme and is looking at offering it more widely.

When it comes to workplace injury prevention, the core of ACC's work is turning its knowledge and information into solutions, and working with businesses to implement them.

Another initiative ACC has undertaken is a focus on vocational rehabilitation.

We know that injured people recover and rehabilitate more effectively when they are at work.

For the last three years ACC has been running a trial called 'Better At Work'.

This programme helps GPs identify how they can best help injured workers get back to work - maybe on a part-time basis or on light duties.

The focus of the programme is on what someone can do, rather than what they can't do.

Often when we think of work-related deaths, we think of incidents involving industrial machinery.

But the reality is work-related traffic fatalities comprise the largest single category of work-related deaths in New Zealand.

There are on average 31 deaths each year - which is almost a third of all work-related fatal injuries.

To help bring this toll down, ACC is developing a number of programmes aimed at vehicle fleet owners, some of them in collaboration with other transport agencies.

Workplace safety is important, not just because it reduces accidents at work but because of the wider social and economic benefits for New Zealand as well.

Safety is not just a practice; it should also become a culture.

Workers who learn safety best practice on the job, take those habits home.

A good example is the problem of falls occurring at home, which cost our country an estimated $1.8 billion annually.

Every year more than 100,000 working age people are injured as a result of a fall. More than 10,000 of them are so seriously injured they need more than three months off work.

Forty percent of falls in the home are suffered by working-age people yet they account for 60 percent of cost. Some of that cost is borne by you as business owners and managers, because it is your staff who are affected.

Earlier this year I launched a major ACC initiative called 'Idea Nation'.

The programme aims to generate innovative solutions to reduce the number and severity of falls in the home - it includes a series of brainstorming forums and a competition that encourages individuals and businesses to submit their ideas to be in the running for a $10,000 prize.

It's a great chance for all Kiwis to use their renowned 'number 8 wire' thinking to help solve a national problem.

I'm looking forward to seeing the results when the competition closes at the end of this month.

If any of you have any inspired ideas, I'd encourage you to submit an entry.

I want to stress that workplace injury prevention and improving rehabilitation is a high priority for the Government. It's important for workplace productivity and it's critical for employee safety.

ACC is doing a lot of good work in this area.

Since becoming Minister, I have visited many ACC offices around New Zealand. I have been thoroughly impressed with the work being done on the frontline.

When I am out and about, it is a great pleasure to hear positive feedback from people about the help they've received from ACC.

They are appreciative of the professional, caring and helpful ACC case managers who have supported them on their road to recovery.

ACC is a good system, with good people, doing some great work.

The last three years have seen the financial performance of the corporation strengthened.

Now we need to focus on improving service and strengthening public trust and confidence in the scheme, so we can rebuild ACC into an organisation Kiwis are proud of.

I am sure you all, like me, will be watching the corporation's progress with interest.

Thank you.

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