Changes to Health and Safety Law are on their way

September 15 2015

The long-awaited Health and Safety Reform Bill passed into law on 27 August and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 will come into force in April next year. As you are no doubt aware, the legislation will have significant implications for all businesses and the farming sector. If you are a business owner or farmer, you should note the upcoming changes and get prepared.

Under the new legislation, any ‘Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking’ (PCBU) will have a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of all its workers as well as any others affected by its work, and to identify, minimise and eliminate risks and hazards in the workplace. The legislation will also impose substantial duties on ‘officers’ of PCBUs to be proactive when it comes to matters of health and safety, and on workers to promote the health and safety of themselves and others around them. Penalties for failing to maintain a safe work place will be significantly higher than under the current law.

In July the Select Committee presented its recommendations on the proposed legislation and Parliament made further changes during the final readings. The main changes are:

Worker participation: The new legislation takes steps to make everyone in a workplace responsible for health and safety – from directors down to workers. The Select Committee recommended introducing more flexibility for smaller businesses in low-risk sectors which will be exempt from the onerous participation requirements. The amendments in this area are controversial – welcomed by many businesses but criticised by opposition parties and workers’ unions.

Multiple PCBUs: As the legislation is more far-reaching than existing laws, businesses will find their duties often overlap with other organisations. They will have to consult, cooperate and coordinate with other businesses, as far as reasonably practicable and to the extent they have the ability to influence and control the matter.

The duty of officers: The legislation imposes personal duties on people with senior governance roles. Once it comes into force, directors and others with significant influence over the business will have a duty to exercise due diligence and ensure their organisation meets its health and safety obligations.

Defining a workplace: All PCBUs will have an obligation to identify, minimise and eliminate risks and hazards in any workplace they control. A workplace is defined as a place where work is carried out, including anywhere a worker goes or is likely to be while at work. Following the Select Committee’s report, the legislation was amended to clarify that some areas are not a workplace at all times, and will only be covered while they are.

Farming sector: When the Bill was introduced, there was significant concern from the rural sector on the implications of the proposed legislation on their businesses. Amendments have clarified how the provisions will apply to farms. The duty on farmers managing or controlling ‘workplaces’ will only extend to parts of the farm which are necessary for the farm business. Other parts of the farm, including the farmhouse, will not be covered. Farmers will not be responsible for the health and safety of visitors to the farm, except in areas where work is being carried out.

High-risk workplaces: The government has released its list of high-risk workplaces that will be subject to the strictest health and safety requirements. The proposed list, which identifies 57 extremely high and high-risk industries, includes:

  1. Oil and gas extraction
  2. Rail freight transport
  3. Scenic and sightseeing transport
  4. Forestry and logging
  5. Hunting and fishing
  6. Meat and meat product manufacturing
  7. Road freight transport, and
  8. Horse and dog racing activities.

Controversially, it doesn’t include many types of farming including dairy, beef and poultry.

What can your business do to prepare?

The new law comes into force on 4 April 2016. Given the implications of the legislation, we recommend business owners and farmers begin taking steps to prepare now. You should:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the new law
  2. Understand hazards and risks in your workplace
  3. Prepare to engage your workers on health and safety
  4. Ensure officers are informed and engaged
  5. Keep alert for further guidance from Worksafe NZ, and
  6. Seek appropriate legal advice.

If you’re unsure on how to proceed or would like more advice, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with us.

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