In New Zealand, more than one in ten workers claim for a workplace injury each year. To address this, the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (“the Act”) aims to make New Zealand’s work places safer, part of wide Health and Safety reforms ultimately hoping to reduce the workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020.

What does it mean for workers?

The term “worker” is defined widely and includes, but is not limited to; employees, contractors and sub-contractors and their employees, labour hire company employees who have been assigned, students and volunteers.

Two key features affect workers:

  1. Provisions in the Act protect workers against discrimination and negative actions if they feel the need to raise a health and safety concern.
  2. The Act supports more effective engagement and participation with workers. This begins with consultations surrounding policies, and extends to practical, company wide obligations for every worker to abide by regulations and take reasonable care while in the work place.
What does it mean for business owners?

The Act introduces the term “person conducting a business or undertaking” (“PCBU”). This is another wide term which is intended to apply to a broad range of business arrangements.

Some key obligations of the PCBU are;

  1. To take “reasonably practicable” steps to ensure the health and safety of workers. These steps include ensuring that risks are minimised throughout the business; including the work place itself, its fixtures, materials, workers and tasks.
  2. To support and encourage worker participation in all aspects of the health and safety policies and their enforcement and – if requested by employees – appoint and train safety representatives. (The obligations surrounding representatives vary based on the size and nature of the business).

There will be a growing focus on enforcement, along with increased penalties for non-compliance. Any insurance that a company may hold against fines will also have no effect. No businesses, regardless of the size or level of risk are exempt from the obligations in the Act.

What does it mean for Officers of PCBU’s?

An “Officer” includes, but is not limited to; directors of a company, partners of a partnership, and any person who is in a position to exercise significant influence over the management of the business.

Officers will now be personally liable for failing to exercise due diligence in ensuring that the business is complying with health and safety regulations even if they were not directly involved in making the decision which contravenes the Act.

Interestingly, Peter Jackson recently resigned as Director of Weta Workshop, apparently due to the level of director involvement that this new Act will encourage. The increased level of personal liability is daunting for those directors who do not, or cannot take a hands-on approach.

When do the changes come into force?

This Act took effect on the 4th of April 2016. Work Safe New Zealand will provide information on the new legislation to businesses in an attempt to make the transition as seamless as possible. You may choose to consult a lawyer for more specific advice if you think any of these changes may affect you or your business.