Businesses urged to be proactive with new Health and Safety laws


The new Health and Safety at Work Act rolls out tomorrow and businesses are urged make sure they are across the changes.

The new Act makes certain individuals more responsible for work safe environments, with harsher penalties -- including jail -- for those who don't comply.

"It is important all businesses understand their obligations when it comes to the new law," says accountancy software provider MYOB spokesperson Scott Gardiner.

"It's not just big employers that need to be aware about the new obligations."

However, Mr Gardiner says the new legislation exempts non high-risk sector businesses with fewer than 20 staff members from requiring a health and safety representative.

He says the new legislation comes in at the beginning of a new financial year.

"Many businesses have been busy with financial compliance issues, so they might not have caught up with what the changes mean for them."

EMA employment relations and safety manager Paul Jarvie says the changes are not about catching employers out, but are simply about good business.

"Once this new Act settles down, I think the key area will be ensuring the health of your employees in the workplace, for example mitigating exposure to fumes, dust and chemicals," he says.

"It's about driving a culture where risks are raised and managed before an issue arises, as opposed to dealing with a situation after the fact."

And it's not only employers that need to be proactive.

Disability support workers across the country have been attending WorkSafe workshops to learn about their new responsibilities, which allow workers on the ground more inclusion in decision making.

Disability support worker Tony Smith completed the WorkSafe course, but is "still to be convinced that the law takes into account the complex and varied nature of health and safety".

"Our sector sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to health and safety. We might not work in factories or forests, but we have real health and safety concerns that need to be addressed," he says.

But New Zealand Disability Support Network chief executive Dr Garth Bennie says the workshops have been a good opportunity for employers to team up with WorkSafe and unions to share information about the new legislation.