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The new Health and Safety Reform Bill passed, and the Health and Safety at Work Act came into effect on 4 April 2016. This Act replaces the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

There has been a lot of confusion and questions about what this Act is designed to do, and if all workplace hazards are included. You may have seen in the news that schools are worried they would have to remove playgrounds or cancel school camps as the principals could be fined up to $600,000 or be imprisoned for up to 5 years if ‘workplace’ accidents occur. Workplace relations Minister Michael Woodhouse responded to these worries to reassure principals. Many business owners are expressing similar concerns. 

This article from the Ministry Of Business, Innovation and Employment both addresses these concerns and explores some of the myths.

In summary:

  • All businesses are covered by the Act
  • Paper cuts and other ‘minor’ accidents are not included – the penalties will be applied based on proportionality. If the level of risk is high, and the hazards can be controlled but an accident occurs due to the hazard not being identified or reasonably controlled, then you could be seen as having breached the Act
  • The most important action you need to take to comply with the act is to control hazards and talk to your employees and ensure they are aware of how to work safely, and ensure they are working safely. If they are not, and they have an accident, it is you who will risk the penalty
  • High penalties only come into play for employers who recklessly or persistently flout safety management steps. If you are doing everything in your power to ensure hazards are minimised and your employees are working safely, you are highly unlikely to receive a high penalty
  • The Act does not mean more paperwork! You can breathe a sigh of relief. Managing risk does not equal paperwork unless it is the best way to manage and minimise critical risks. The most important thing is that you and your employees discuss safety management.

Why did this come about?

Government statistics show that New Zealand has more than 200,000 workplace injuries each year, which involves approximately 75 deaths and occurs in around $3.5billion economic and social costs. Currently it is estimated that New Zealand has a population of 4,676,870, which means 4% of us are affected by workplace injuries. The Act is part of ‘Working Safer: a blueprint for health and safety at work”. The main aim for Working Safer is to reduce New Zealand’s workplace injury and death toll by 25% by 2020

Will I be held responsible?

As the business owner and employer, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure health and safety steps are taken and adhered to in your workplace. However, without help from employees and their continued support and assistance, it would be difficult to ensure health and safety rules are being adhered to and avoid possible accidents costing you money. Here is a handy slideshow and other tips on how you can get your entire team involved in Health and Safety.

Is it true that I am now required to have a Health and Safety representative?

If your business is small and in a low-risk industry, you may be exempt from electing a Health and Safety representative or committee, even if one of your employee asks for one. However, if you are in a high-risk industry you must agree to have a representative if one of your workers requests it. Health and Safety representatives can:

  • Represent workers on Health and Safety matters
  • Provide feedback and make recommendations on Health and Safety
  • Get Health and Safety information and inspect the workplace
  • Attend Health and Safety representative training during paid work time

What to do now?

For further reading, a great place to start is Worksafe – they have developed tools to help you understand the new Act.