MBIE says time to review how you manage 'critical risks', those serious enough to keep someone off work

The new health and safety reforms are generating some angst, among both unions and businesses.

The aim of the law is to reduce the number of New Zealanders killed or hurt at work. In New Zealand on average 73 people die on the job each year and one in ten is harmed in some way according to the ACC claim records.

The new laws which will come into effect later this year don’t mean your business will necessarily face a lot of new compliance costs. For many small businesses, little will change says the Government – especially if you already take a considered approach about how to keep those in your workplace safe and healthy.

So ahead of the law change, it’s a good opportunity to review and, if needed, revise how you manage any critical risks – those that could cause illness or injury serious enough to keep someone off work.

The new law says you need to take reasonably practical steps to manage these risks. How you do this will depend on:

– how seriously someone could get hurt

– the chance of an accident happening

– and how much control you have over preventing it.

Like all health and safety regulation, employers must look into the future for potential risks. And if one happens, you won’t be able to escape the lawyers position that “you either knew or you should have known”. The regulators and courts will have the certainty of hindsight.

MBIE has published a list of ‘myth busters’ about their new changes to the law.


Myth one: The new health and safety (H&S) law won’t apply to small businesses.

False

It applies to all businesses in New Zealand, regardless of size. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that your business will need to do anything differently, if you already take a considered approach to H&S.


Myth two: Paper cuts are now a big deal

False

The new law emphasises proportionality. What you need to do will depend on the level of risk and what you can reasonably control. What you need to identify, and take practical steps to manage, are critical risks to the people in your workplace – including visitors and customers. These can range from noise levels to slippery floors, heavy machinery to hazardous substances.


Myth three: It’ll be expensive to comply.

False

The most important thing to do costs nothing. Talk with your employees about how to work safely. Expert advisors may be useful if the risks you need to manage are detailed and technical – see these tips on choosing the right advisor if this applies to your business. You can also contact WorkSafe for advice.


Myth four: I need to do something now, or face big fines.

False

High penalties only come into play for employers who recklessly or persistently flout safety management steps. If you already have sound H&S policies and practices in place, you’re in a good position to stay compliant when the law changes. If not, there’s plenty of time to fix this – and keep those in your workplace safe and healthy.


Myth five: If someone gets hurt, I’ll go to prison.

False

Again, penalties such as hefty fines and imprisonment are only imposed in extreme circumstances. For example, if an employer removes safety measures put in place after a WorkSafe inspection, and a worker is seriously injured as a result. In general, WorkSafe aims to support those who show a genuine willingness to comply.


Myth six: This means LOADS of paperwork.

False

Paperwork does not equal managing risk, and managing risk does not equal paperwork. You only need documents if this is the best way to manage and minimise critical risks. Putting things in writing is a useful tool for good communication, but what’s most important is for you and your employees to discuss safety management.