What led to the new Health and Safety Act?

Since April last year, New Zealand businesses have been required to comply with the new Health & Safety at Work Act 2015, which replaced the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. But what brought on this change?

Active vs. Passive Health and Safety

Whereas the old law focused on monitoring and recording health and safety incidents, the new regulations are designed to ensure that businesses actively identify and manage risks, thereby preventing incidents from occurring. The responsibility for this is shared by the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), its officers and its workers.

Harsher Penalties - Stronger Compliance

The new legislation also introduced a range of significantly harsher penalties for breaches of the act which result in the injury or death of a worker. Under the 1992 act, the top penalty was a $500,000 fine. Under the new act, the worst breaches can attract a $600,000 fine for individuals, $3 million for companies, and up to five years in prison. This is in the hopes of reducing the risks in businesses and strengthening compliance across workplaces. 

The Health and Safety Trigger for Change

What caused such a drastic overhaul of our Health and Safety law? In a nutshell, New Zealand has a poor history of workplace safety, with an at-work death rate which is double that of Australia and triple that of the UK.

On average, between 50 and 60 people die each year from work-related injuries, and 600-900 people die from work-related illnesses. In 2014/2015, over 3,300 serious harm cases were reported*.

While our workplace safety statistics have been unsatisfactory for many years, the catalyst for change was the 2010 Pike River Coal Mine tragedy, in which 29 miners died as the result of a methane gas explosion. A commission of enquiry into the disaster discovered a series of health and safety issues within the mine.

In response to the increased focus on workplace safety, The New Zealand Government set up an independent taskforce in 2012 to investigate whether existing health and safety law was responsible for the country’s poor track record. It found that rather than one major failing, there were significant weaknesses throughout the 1992 act.

Based on the findings of both the Pike River enquiry and the independent taskforce, and as part of the 2013 Working Safer Reforms, the Government set up Worksafe New Zealand in December of that year, with a mandate to improve the country’s workplace health and safety performance.

Worksafe then set about overhauling New Zealand health and safety law, which resulted in the HSWA 2015. The new legislation is based on Australia’s WHS Act 2012, which has seen a 16 per cent reduction in work-related deaths since it was implemented.

If you would like more information about the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015, visit www.worksafe.govt.nz.


*Source: worksafe.govt.nz

Photo by John Salvino