New health and safety laws to come in this week

New health and safety laws to come in this week

This week marks the launch of new health and safety laws that make certain individuals more responsible for creating safe working environments.

It's important you are familiar with the changes in case you are one of those individuals -- because the new law also brings in far more severe penalties, including jail, for those who don't comply.

WorkSafe New Zealand CEO, Gordon MacDonald, says compliance isn't just about fixing problems when they're pointed out -- but proving that you have tried to prevent hazards in the first place.

"It's not WorkSafe's job to come around and spot risk and people respond to that and put things right -- people should be taking proactive action. Identify your risks, identify who could be harmed, how badly and then devise sensible measures to mitigate those risks," says MacDonald.

In short, because our health and safety record at work is abysmal.

New health and safety laws to come in this week

The Pike River mine disaster was an example of how failures to identify and act on potential hazards can lead to the loss of lives.

It was the subsequent investigation and safety recommendations that led to this Act being established.

But if that alone was not enough -- the statistics on accidents in the workplace surely sealed the deal.

Workers in New Zealand are twice as likely to be killed or suffer serious harm in the workplace compared with those in Australia, and six times as likely as those in the UK.

On average, each year 75 people die on the job in New Zealand.

This is where the jargon comes in. Basically it's anyone who has a significant say in the day-to-day running of an organisation.

The acronym used for these people is PCBU -- a 'person conducting a business or undertaking'.

There are a few quirks to the definitions.

For example, if you are a homeowner and you have a tradesman in to do work in your house -- that does not make you the person in charge of a workplace.

The tradesman is the PCBU and therefore in charge of their own safety. On the other hand, if you operate your own business from home then you are a PCBU.

Another example -- if you are a volunteer organising a charity event you are not a PCBU. But if you are running an event at a workplace then you do have a duty of care.

There are a range of infringement notices and warnings that Inspectors can give for minor offences.

When it comes to more serious offences the maximum penalty is for reckless conduct that exposes an individual to a risk of serious injury, serious illness or death.

If an individual is classed as a PCBU then the maximum penalty is five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $600,000.

An organisation that is a PCBU can be liable for up to $3 million.

Michael Williams, principal of Pakuranga College

Mr Williams says under the new law Principals will be required to assess all the safety hazards before any outdoor education and be held responsible if anything goes wrong. He says safety of students has always been a top priority but adding the potential for criminal liability may have some impact on activities.

"I think that's going to have some impact invariably -- whether it's just Principal's being more stressed out and worried -- or whether it actually results in saying no, we don't do it,

"At our school we have brought an external consultant in who is reviewing all our systems and also reviewing the entire site and plant. Everyone says that's an over-reaction but again as a Principal I want to be sure that I have been proactive and taken those steps. Some advice has been don't do it because when you've got a big list of things you're obliged to fix them all -- but my opinion is -- if they're a problem, I best fix them."

Grant Florence, Certified Builders

Mr Florence of certified Builders says they've been on a roadshow around the country with WorkSafe New Zealand trying to educate their members about what the changes will mean.

He says there will be increased reporting requirements which may increase operational costs -- which will inevitably be passed on to homeowners.

"My concern is that a good third of the builders around the country aren't necessarily affiliated to a trade association. We provide that education and information around that, so in general I think we're ok but there's still a sector that I do have some concerns about."

Stuart Bent, Bayleys Property Services

Mr Bent explains that property managers are now responsible for the safety of people in the buildings they manage.

He says it's now more important to demonstrate and prove through paperwork that safety assessments have been carried out, but he doesn't believe it will make too much difference from current practices.

"Health and safety legislation has been in New Zealand for a good 20 years, so the way I look at it -- it's going from economy class on a plane up to business class. It's always been here, there's now just a heightened awareness."

Bernie Monk, Spokesman for the families of Pike River victims

Mr Monk says the families welcome the new penalties for individuals but in the case of Pike River, he believes Government departments also had to accept some responsibility.

"The Department of Labour were very much to blame as well as the directors and officers in charge under them. The significance is, even though we are putting this in the workplace, I still go back to the Government authorities that are running it and they've got to be fair on these people and they must also look at themselves to see if they're doing the right thing as well."