Health and safety reform New Zealand

iStock_000058892894-welderEach year on average, 75 people die on the job and 1 in 10 people are injured at work. With statistics this bad, it’s not surprising the Government is reforming New Zealand’s health and safety landscape.

A new Health and Safety Reform Bill (the Bill) is currently before Parliament and is expected to pass later this year. The Bill will create the new Health and Safety at Work Act, replacing the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, and aims to reduce workplace injury and death toll by 25 percent by 2020. The Bill introduces changes to the allocation of health and safety duties in the workplace and increases the compliance and enforcement tools available to inspectors.

Under the current legislation, there is a primary focus on the employer and employee roles, and duties are carefully placed on defined participants (such as employers, principals, the self-employed).

The new Bill introduces the concept of a ‘Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking’ (PCBU), which replaces the previous duty holders. The PCBU will be allocated primary duties of care with regards to health and safety at work where they are in the best position to control risks to work health and safety.

The primary duty of care requires all PCBUs to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • the health and safety of workers employed or engaged or caused to be employed or engaged by the PCBU or those workers who are influenced or directed by the PCBU (for example, workers and contractors), and
  • that the health and safety of other people is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking (for example, visitors and customers).

This means that PCBUs will need to think broadly about who they affect through the conduct of their business or undertaking, rather than just direct employees or contractors. Where there are overlapping health and safety duties (such as multiple contractors on a building site), each PCBU has a duty to consult and co-operate with the other PCBUs to ensure health and safety matters are properly managed.

A new duty proposed under the Bill is that an ‘officer’ of a PCBU (such as a company director or partner), must exercise due diligence to ensure that the PCBU complies with its duties. This places a responsibility on people at the governance level of an organisation to actively engage in health and safety matters, reinforcing that health and safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Workers also have specific health and safety duties at work and the Bill defines the duties they owe and are owed (for example, a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety). The Bill will also apply to volunteers in certain circumstances.

The Bill provides a wider range of enforcement tools for inspectors and for increased penalties for infringements. There will be three types of offences for a breach of a health and safety duty and a breach will be graded based on the conduct of the duty holders and the outcome of the breach. For example, a person may be jailed for up to five years if they have a health and safety duty and, without reasonable excuse, are reckless and engage in conduct that exposes a person to a risk of death or serious injury or illness. A body corporate in a similar position may be fined up to $3 million.

There will be several months between when the Bill is passed and when it comes into force to give people time to prepare for the new regime.

Published Winter 2015.

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