The recent health and safety law change, which took effect on 1 April 2016, meant many New Zealand businesses had to revisit their health and safety policies. Whether the workplace is a construction site or an office building, all workers have an increased duty to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others around them.
Our employment lawyer Bronwen Newcombe recently wrote an article for stuff.co.nz, which explored these health and safety changes, and illustrated the new responsibilities faced by both employers' and employees'.
Q: I've been hearing a lot about the health and safety changes and what they mean for employers but don't employees also have responsibilities for health and safety?
The old Health and Safety in Employment Act dealt mainly with employers and employees. The new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 widens the scope as it deals with PCBUs (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) and workers.
Under the new Act, the definition of "worker" includes employees as well as contractors, sub-contractors, volunteer workers, apprentices and trainees.
All workers should understand what their health and safety obligations are under the new Act and also what penalties they will face if they are in breach of the law.
Generally speaking, the main duty that a worker owes is to take reasonable care to ensure that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect their own health and safety or the health and safety of others.
Practical examples of how workers must discharge this duty include:
- Adhering to all safe working procedures in accordance with the PCBU's instructions
- Taking reasonable care of self and others who may be affected by the worker's actions
- Notifying the PCBU's health and safety officer and management of any possible health and safety breaches by others in the organisation
- Participating fully in all health and safety policy development, implementation and compliance;
- Complying with all accident and near-miss reporting policies;
- Ensuring all personal protective equipment is worn correctly at all times.
A worker may also be required to abide by further health and safety requirements if they are an officer of the PCBU or if the PCBU has specific health and safety policies in place from time to time.
If a worker breaches a health and safety duty then, depending on the severity of the breach, the worker may be liable for a fine and/or prison term.
If the worker is an employee then the worker is also likely to face disciplinary proceedings with the employee's employer.
If a worker is an officer of a PCBU (i.e. the worker exercises significant influence over the management of the PCBU) then the maximum penalty for a breach of the new act is a fine of up to $600,000 and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.
If the worker is not an officer then the maximum penalty is a fine of up to $300,000 and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.
If there is any doubt about a health and safety duty, or if a worker has a health and safety concern, then they should immediately discuss this with the PCBU.
Original article published in stuff.co.nz; April 11 2016