Health and Safety Frequently Asked Questions
We answer common queries about Health and Safety in New Zealand and dispel myths with realistic clarification.
Some stories that go around the media or come from inexperienced consultants can confuse those with Health and Safety responsibilities. Our team of specialists approach these frequently asked questions with realistic and practical clarifications.
I'm an employed Supervisor and my boss told me I now have personal liability for any incident. Is this really true?
No. Unless you are a Director or Partner, hold a place on the Board, or are otherwise in a position which holds influence over how the business is operated, you are a Worker. Within the companies’ operational hierarchy, you may hold a position which is senior to others or which requires you to oversee their day to day operations, but under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, you are not an Officer of the PCBU.
That said, there are collective responsibilities, and because you are not an Officer it doesn’t completely discharge you from all responsibility. As a Worker you have an obligation to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and make sure that your actions (or inactions) don’t create a risk or harm to anyone else.
I'm a Sole Trader with a limited budget. Given my limited means, what is your advice for me in terms of what I need to do or have in place?
As a Sole Trader, you are a PCBU. You should already have a Health & Safety Policy for your business, and hopefully you already work in a safe manner. You might need to update some parts of your H&S Policy (or get us to do it for you), and review the way you identify and manage risks at the place(s) you work.
If you engage any contractors to do work, then they are a PCBU too. But you both have a duty of care to each other when you’re working on the same site.
If you are a subbie on someone else’s site, you’re still a PCBU, but they are too. They might have the primary duty of care, as it is their site, but you are responsible too. You all need to work together to minimize risks. Your Health & Safety system will be a little different to that of a larger company, however the principles and the law are the same.
I’ve already spent a lot of money getting things right under the old Act, so what has really changed?
The key change is a shift in focus from monitoring and recording health and safety incidents, to being proactive in identifying and managing risks. Our workplace injuries and fatalities must be reduced.
We already had processes for identifying and communicating hazards, so for your business there might not mean any major changes to your day to day work. The main thing you need to think of now is that it is your businesses duty to think about who you might affect by the work or activities you do. This includes your workers, contractors, customers, and even visitors. And consider how the size and structure of your business may have changed over the past few years.
You do also need to engage your workers in health and safety matters. Having 20 or more employees means you must have a Health and Safety Committee with worker representation.
My community relies on volunteers in pretty much everything that happens here. How does ‘PCBU’ apply to those groups? Will this Act make it too hard to do anything anymore?
A PCBU is a Person conducting a Business or Undertaking, and it could be the actual organization or business. A PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers, and that other persons are not put at risk by its work. This is called the Primary Duty of Care.
It is important to know that Volunteer Associations are not PCBUs. A Volunteer Association is a group of volunteers working together for one or more community purpose, where none of the volunteers, nor the association as a whole, employs anyone to carry out work for them. Community purpose could include the promotion of art, culture, science, religion, education, medicine, or for charity, sport or recreation purposes. Volunteer groups that only engage contractors (e.g. instead of having employees) are not classified as PCBUs. Contractors are PCBUs in their own right.
There seems to be a lot of scare-mongering by H&S companies to drum up more business?
While there have been reports of some heavy handed cold-calling from newer companies, it cannot be denied that in 2015 there were 23,000 serious injuries or deaths in NZ workplaces. The new Act is designed to reduce those incidents and allow more people to get home safely at the end of their work day.
It is important to choose a health and safety team who have plenty of experience and can provide solid testimonials whether your system needs a revamp or you are starting from scratch.
Thinking beyond just health and safety, these new principles will have a massive impact to the wider community as well as to your bottom line.
My business is committed to H&S, and we spent a lot to train and equip our staff, but we still have some who do stupid things. How do I manage them? I don’t want to be held liable for their activity.
Create a culture where it is normal and expected that everyone embraces the new legislation. What is your company culture around health and safety? Then engage your staff in the process of change. Empower them as they are the ones at the coalface and can see the risks and they may have great ideas for making changes. Help them understand that everyone is responsible for health and safety of themselves and those around them and respect that they know their jobs well.
Involving these workers in your H&S discussions or having them on the committee could help them understand why we have H&S policies. Making these policies part of their employment contract means that any breach of those could result in disciplinary action. More importantly, no-one wants to be responsible for a colleague’s injury or death.
I own a building, and I already maintain it and ensure it has a Building WoF. Do I have more responsibility to tenants now? More cost?
As a Building Owner, you are a PCBU. This means you have a duty of care, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved with or affected by work on or at your property. This includes work that you organize or are responsible for. Your responsibility isn’t just to tenants, it also extends to:
- Contractors engaged by you
- Members of public visiting your property
You need to review things like contractors you use for regular work. Check with them to make sure they are actually Trade Qualified, that they are inducted onto your site, and that they only work in a safe manner. They may also need to work with other PCBU’s.
I’m too good looking to go to jail. Will WorkSafe really be locking people up?
Hefty fines and imprisonment are only imposed in extreme circumstances, and always have been. Convictions are reserved for the most serious offences. The most important thing to remember is that the legislation is here to keep people safe so they can go home to their families.
Separate fact from fiction, and ensure that your health and safety system is robust. Perhaps it just needs a review or a tweak? There are plenty of resources and information online from reputable organisations. WorkSafe isn’t actively looking for people to lock up; in an ideal world they wouldn’t need to exist. Meanwhile, keep calm and carry on safely.
Are schools really banning tree climbing? What’s next? Rugby? School Camps? Swimming?
Some schools have reacted defensively in a way they believe will protect their Principals and Boards. There has been a lot of media interest in this topic, and WorkSafe has responded by saying that the focus at schools, like any workplace, will be on managing risk rather than an accident, because managing risk is how you meet your duty of care.
Everyone has a part to play in health and safety at schools – the Board of Trustees, the Principal, Staff, Parents, Contractors and others. The Board is a PCBU and holds the primary duty of care to everyone involved with the school. The Principal is an Officer, and is responsible for exercising due diligence to ensure the school is meeting its obligations.
Schools already have some pretty robust health and safety practices, and generally do a great job at looking after our young people while they are in their care. As long as the school takes reasonable steps to identify and manage the risks associated with their facilities and activities then they are meeting their obligations.
The Ministry of Education has released their own Health and Safety Guidance documents, which are available for download on their website www.education.govt.nz #keepclimbingtrees
I heard WorkSafe and ACC are working together. Will anything change with regard to the way that my business works with ACC?
There is a proposed Safety Star Rating Initiative being developed by WorkSafe, ACC and the Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment to help reduce the severity and incidents of injuries in the workplace.
It is voluntary and the SSR initiative consists of 15 standards focusing on leadership, worker engagement and participation, risk awareness and risk management. The standards were developed with industry from internationally accepted good health and safety practice.
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