New Zealand Parliament is currently reforming its country’s health and safety laws, expected to be enacted in mid-2015. The goal is to reduce overall workplace injuries and specifically, by 2020 to reduce workplace deaths by 25%. Legislation is modeled after similar Australian policy which reduced work-related deaths by 16% since 2012. New Zealand has not updated its safety policy since 1992.
The New Zealand government began reform efforts in 2013, spurred by the Pike River Coal Mine disaster, where 29 miners were killed due to a methane gas explosion. The incident was one of the deadliest in New Zealand history and exposed the country’s gaps in safety standards. In New Zealand, 75 workers on average die every year due to work-related causes, with an additional 900 dying from work-related disease. This all comes at a cost of $3.5 billion annually.
The new legislation, titled the Health and Safety Reform Bill, is proactive, including for the first time the definition of a duty holder, known as a Person Conducting a Business of Undertaking (PCBU). This person may or may not be the employer, but does not include directors or officers of the company. The bill also defines a worker to include someone carrying out work in some capacity for the PCBU, who could be an employee, but also a contractor or subcontractor, trainee or volunteer.
All PCBUs will have a primary general duty to ensure the safety of their workers while at work and carrying out work, as far as reasonably practicable. They must also make sure no other persons are put at risk due to the work being conducted.
Officers of the company are required to exercise due diligence in ensuring PCBUs comply with their duties. Due diligence can require keeping up on knowledge of WHS in the company and the PCBUs activities, ensuring the PCBU has the appropriate resources for the job, and making sure the PCBU is following the appropriate processes regarding incidents and hazards. Previously, a director had to be directly linked to a company’s failure in such activities.
The bill sets three tiers of penalties for those who break the rules: When a duty is owed, reckless conduct fines apply of up to $3 million for the company and $600,000 for an individual with 5 years in prison for exposing a person to risk of death or serious injury and illness. Exposing a person to risk of death or serious injury and illness for failure to comply with a duty carries fines up to $1.5 million and $300,000 for individuals. For failure to comply with a duty without exposure to death or serious injury fines are $500,000 and $100,000 for individuals.
It is expected there will be a grace period of several months between the time the bill passes parliament and before the law is enforced to give employers time to become compliant. New Zealand business owners are already stepping up in advance of the legislation, moving toward a goal of overall compliance. Companies doing business in New Zealand should revisit their workplace policies regarding safety and compliance to ensure they meet new standards. myosh is a global leader in safety management software, helping businesses meet their compliance needs. Find more information at www.myosh.com
By Stacey Wagner