How to protect your business under the new Health & Safety Act

New Zealand has an unenviable track record when it comes to workplace health and safety. According to Worksafe New Zealand, one or two people die every week from work-related accidents. Additionally, hundreds more die each year from occupational diseases such as asbestosis. As the result of this, and in the wake of incidents like the Pike River mining disaster, New Zealand’s workplace safety legislation was recently reviewed and updated. The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 2015 came into effect in April 2016. The new laws place additional responsibility on business owners for the wellbeing of their staff while at work.

Do you understand your obligations?

If you’re involved in running a business, in a position such as a director, board member, partner or sole trader, you’re now known in health and safety terms as an officer of the “person conducting a business or undertaking” (PCBU). As an officer of the PCBU, your obligations are to:

·       be constantly well-informed about the health and safety issues in your workplace

·       understand your business’s work and how it is carried out

·       know the risks that your workers (including volunteers) face

·       check that you have the right processes in place to manage risks and that you carry them out consistently

·       ensure your business has a formal process to share and respond to information about health and safety

·       ensure your business has processes in place to comply with health and safety requirements and carries them out consistently

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Under the new laws, an officer of the PCBU is personally liable for any breaches of their due diligence duty. A serious breach is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $600,000. A full list of penalties is available from Worksafe New Zealand.

If you have a workforce of any size, you can spread the responsibility of regulatory compliance, and increase employee engagement, by appointing some of your staff as health and safety representatives. These staff members are your eyes and ears on the ground when it comes to health and safety matters. They act on your behalf to gather information about potential hazards in your workplace, and help to identify ways in which those hazards can be eliminated, isolated or minimised. They also provide other staff with a way to voice their concerns about health and safety related issues without having to approach a manager. Health and safety reps, if formally trained, can also wield the power to issue provisional improvement notices or stop employees from engaging in unsafe work practices. Training is available as a one or two-day course from third-party providers around New Zealand.

How can insurance help to protect my business?

With the changes in health and safety regulation, there’s a higher chance than ever that, as an officer of the PCBU, you may be prosecuted under the Act and be required to go to court to defend yourself. The costs of this may be significant and represent a substantial expense to your business. While insurance cannot pay any fines you incur under HSWA 2015, you can cover your legal costs with statutory liability insurance. If you don’t have this type of cover - or you do, but haven’t reviewed it recently – it’s important to give your Certus adviser a call to make sure you are adequately protected.