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15 January 2016
by SRB Law

Health and Safety Reform: What Does the New Act Mean?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 comes into force on 4 April 2016. The Act makes significant changes to New Zealand's current health and safety legislation.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 will come into force on 4 April 2016.  It will replace the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.  In general terms, the new Act aims to reduce deaths and serious injury in the workplace by 25% by 2020. 

One of the major changes is to define the key duties which are owed by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).  The new Act also imposes a specific due diligence obligation on officers of the PCBU.  Officers are directors (in companies), partners (if a partnership) or any other person making decisions that affect the whole of the business of the PCBU (for example a chief executive).  This is an attempt to impose some personal liability on key personnel working within corporate structures.

The relevant penalties have been substantially increased.  The maximum penalty under the Act for a person who is a PCBU or an officer of a PCBU is five years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $600,000.00 for reckless conduct in relation to a duty.  For a failure to comply with a duty, an individual who is a PCBU or an officer of a PCBU can be fined up to $100,000.00.  That is regardless of whether or not this leads to an injury or a risk of death or injury to a person.

At the time the new Act was passed there was a great deal of publicity and rhetoric about high risk sectors or industries, and in particular the fact that worm farms were high risk but farms in general were not.  This media interest should not be taken to mean that businesses which are not in a high risk industry do not have to comply with health and safety requirements.  All businesses (whether they are high risk industries or not) are bound to comply with their various duties under the Act.  The primary duty of care is owed by a PCBU who must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of any workers, and the health and safety of any other persons while the conduct of the business or undertaking is carried out.

It is important that all businesses (and officers) are aware of their obligations under the new legislation as soon as possible so that steps can be put in place well before the Act comes into effect on 4 April 2016.  At the very least, businesses should:

  1. Familiarise themselves with the key concepts of the legislation.

  2. Review their health and safety practices.

  3. Identify any health and safety risks in the business and take steps to prevent those from causing harm.

  4. Make health and safety a part of their work place culture.This includes positively engaging with workers in relation to health and safety matters.

Please contact Saunders Robinson Brown with any queries or for assistance with your health and safety policies and practices. 

WorkSafe New Zealand Information

The above information is of a general nature only. You should contact our firm for advice relating to your specific circumstances.