Is Health and Safety Really Just Safety?

Written by: William Buck on Friday, October 16, 2015

The Health and Safety at Work Act comes into effect on 4 April 2016. But Leicester Gouwland of Auckland accounting firm William Buck Christmas Gouwland asks “Where’s the health part of the act? The act talks about safety but not so much health.”

Gouwland points out that back in 2011 a UN meeting on non-communicable diseases called for interventions to include “the provision of incentives for work-site healthy lifestyle programmes” and for the private sector to “promote and create an enabling environment for healthy behaviours among workers, including by establishing tobacco-free workplaces and safe and healthy working environments through occupational safety and health measures, including, where appropriate, through good corporate practices, workplace wellness programmes and health insurance plans”.

New Zealand First MP Barbara Stewart’s Affordable Healthcare Bill calls for the removal of Fringe benefit Tax on health insurance. Stewart wants to encourage employers to pay for health insurance as part of employees’ compensation package. This would go some way to fulfil the intention of the UN’s political declaration. While the declaration was universally adopted by member states, New Zealand lags behind in taking action, and currently the government is not showing support for the bill.

The recently released Southern Cross Health Society and BusinessNZ Wellness in the Workplace Survey Paper points out that 56.4% of employers would consider purchasing health insurance if the FBT was removed. The cost of FBT on health care premiums is approximately 43% of the GST inclusive cost, a significant factor for employers.

The language in the Health and Safety at Work Act repeatedly states action should be taken “so far as is reasonably practicable”. Surely removing the FBT on health insurance is an entirely simple and practicable solution?

Gouwland asks why health insurance is singled out for the FBT vs. other health Initiatives? The costs of complying with health and safety obligations are exempt from FBT. So is the cost of providing a flu vaccine to employees. Income protection insurance is tax deductible. Further, the government has encouraged other positive behaviours through tax incentives; the recently removed kick starter for KiwiSaver being a good example, so why is health insurance subject to FBT? Gouwland goes on to suggest that the government should consider removing the FBT on other proven employee wellbeing initiatives such as gym memberships.

Gouwland points out that an Australian Medibank Private report in 2005 concluded that “Employers have a unique opportunity to improve the health and wellness of their staff, improve worker performance and reduce sickness leave.” He concludes “Surely the New Zealand government should take the very simple steps such as removing the FBT on health insurance and gym memberships.”  

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