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NEW HEALTH AND SAFETY LAWS – WILL YOU BE READY?

The new Health & Safety at Work Act was passed by Parliament in August with the majority of the changes due to come into force on 4 April 2016.

There are a number of key changes which will affect almost all persons in charge of a workplace.   Some of those key changes are set out below.

The PCBU

The primary duty holder under the new legislation is a “person conducting a business or undertaking” (“PCBU”).   This is a very wide definition and there may be several PCBU’s in a workplace or site.

Key exclusions to the definition include people who are employees or officers of a PCBU, volunteer associations and residential home occupiers who engage people solely to do residential work.

If there is more than one PCBU with a duty under the Act in relation to the same issue, then PCBU’s are required to consult and co-ordinate activities with each other to the extent that is possible.   This is known as a “duty of horizontal consultation” and will require a much higher degree of communication and collaboration amongst people.

Officers of PCBU’s now have personal due diligence duties to ensure that the PCBU complies with its duties and obligations.   That duty requires the officer to exercise the care, diligence and skills that a “reasonable” officer would exercise in the same circumstances having regard to the type of business and the nature of the responsibilities undertaken by the officer.  So not every director will have the same level of responsibility, but there will be little tolerance of directors asleep at the wheel.

Officers include Directors of a PCBU company, Partners in a partnership, the General Partner in a Limited Partnership, a person carrying out a role similar to that of a Company Director and any person with “significant influence” over the management of the business or undertaking (such as a General Manager).

This will require a greater level of inquiry and reporting than may have been the case in the past and, and it is not going to be possible for officers to just delegate that down to staff as a full solution.

Another significant change is the level of penalties involved in the new Act.   There are significantly more offenses under the Act.   For example, a failure to carry out the “horizontal consultation” required with other PCBU’s with the same duty may result in a fine of up to $20,000.00 for an individual or $100,000.00 for another person.

Other offenses under the Act for corporate PCBU’s are set at $500,000.00, $1,500,000.00 or $3,000,000.00 depending on the seriousness of the offence.   This is a significant increase.

Work Safe New Zealand is going to conduct an education and information campaign to make sure people are ready for the changes.   We strongly recommend that you keep an eye on the Work Safe New Zealand website and look out for any publications or guidelines which may be relevant to your duties.