Under the current health and safety legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, almost everyone in a workplace or organisation has some degree of responsibility for health and safety, so it’s important to understand your obligations.
When the first phase of the act came into effect in 2016, it changed the landscape of health and safety law in New Zealand, broadening the scope of who is responsible for health and safety.
The obligation to take all ‘reasonably practicable’ steps
Whether you are a business, a public sector agency or a not-for-profit organisation, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 affects you and sets out your health and safety obligations. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, you are required to take all ‘reasonably practicable’ steps to ensure the health and safety of employees, contractors, sub-contractors, visitors, customers and people who might be affected by your organisation’s work. This includes work-related health conditions, as well as injuries which might occur. Even if you have no employees, the health and safety laws apply to you as a business owner.
What is a PCBU?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 introduced a new legal concept known as a PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking). A ‘person,’ in the definition of PCBU, can be a literal person or an organisation. That person or organisation has a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers and other people who may be put at risk by the work being carried out. That duty of care is not transferable and you cannot contract out of it.
A PCBU must ensure that the work environment, premises and structures, systems of work and working conditions are provided and maintained so that everyone remains safe. This may include having staff undertake additional training and creating risk management plans that consider possible hazards or risks at your workplace. The PCBU is not the only entity that has duties under the act; the officers of the PCBU (for example, company directors, board members, the chief executive and senior management) also have responsibilities to ensure that health and safety is maintained.
What do I have to consider when fulfilling health and safety obligations?
When determining whether the PCBU has provided the highest level of protection from workplace health and safety risks (as is reasonably practicable), all relevant matters must be taken into account, including:
- The likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring;
- The degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk;
- The knowledge each person involved has, or ought to have, about the hazard or risk itself and the ways of eliminating or minimising the hazard or risk;
- The availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk;
- The cost associated with eliminating or minimising the risk.
What if I do not fulfil my health and safety obligations?
If you have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and you do not comply with them, you risk penalties which include fines of up to $300,000 and/or five years’ imprisonment for reckless conduct.
This article is brief and general in nature. You should not treat this article as legal advice and should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this article. Armstrong Murray accepts no liability for losses suffered by any person or organisation who may rely directly or indirectly on this article.