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. Afterall its about EVERYONE getting home safely!

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 Management System for your business (doesn’t have to be an elaborate big fat manual – keep it simple!), and hopefully you already work in a safe manner. You might need to update some parts of your Health & Safety Management System (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 minimise risks. Your Health & Safety Management System will be a little different to that of a larger company, however the principles and the law are the same.

Doing nothing is not an option.

What should I focus on?

The key change in Health and Safety 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 that 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 and be able to demonstrate Leadership in H & S. Its not ok to say ‘ I didn’t know, they didn’t tell me’ – you need to make sure you know what is happening and ensure you are resourcing adequately.

My community relies on volunteers in pretty much everything that happens here. How does ‘PCBU’ apply to those groups?

A PCBU is a Person conducting a Business or Undertaking, and it could be the actual organisation 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 a 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 ‘fly-by’nighters’, it cannot be denied that New Zealand’s record on serious injuries or deaths in NZ workplaces is not good.  The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 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. Check they are HASANZ Registered also and have affiliations with relevant professional bodies such as NZISM or NZSC.

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.

You neeed to create a culture where it is normal and expected that everyone embraces Health, Safety and Wellbeing. 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 and everyone wants to get home safely.

I own a building, and I already maintain it and ensure it has a Building WoF - what else do I need to do?

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 organise 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.

In some cases you are also responsible for ensuring that there is an Approved Fire Scheme and that 6 monthly Trial Evacuations are carried out.

How do I know I am doing the right things?

The best way is to focus on 3 key things:

  1. Risk Management
  2. Worker Engagement
  3. Due Diligence

There are 3 ways to assess how you are doing.

  1. Take our FREE simple self-assessment – takes 5-10 minutes and we will provide you with advice
  2. Use the SafePlus Online Tool (recommended for businesses with under 50 FTE’s)
  3. Get us in to carry out a diagnostic assessment using Safe365

If you think you’re doing really well talk to us about whether getting an Independent SafePlus Assessment is the right thing for your business.

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    #keepclimbingtrees

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.

Mythbusting and FAQs

Here WorkSafe NZ bust some of the myths about the Health and Safety at Work Act, and answer some of the frequently asked questions about the law.