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Understand the Health and Safety at Work Act in NZ

health and safety legislation

If the past year has offered any real benefit to society, it’s the sobering realization that there are consequences for those businesses without a comprehensive understanding of the Health and Safety at Work Act and the policies and programs needed to offer compliance with the regulations.

For many, the transition to working from home when COVID-19 struck was relatively simple. Worldwide, however, many others, including those working in manufacturing and other labour-intensive jobs, were either furloughed, forced to work in unsafe conditions, or, in many cases, contracted COVID-19.

Yet as 2020 came to a close, things finally seem to be turning a corner. Several highly effective COVID-19 vaccines have been approved and are starting to be shipped out to countries across the world. New Zealand itself expects to protect as many as 750,000 people by early 2021 as its 1.5 million pre-ordered Pfizer-BioNTech begin to ship.

While the dawn is undoubtedly approaching, Kiwi businesses, who fared COVID-19 better than businesses in nearly every other country in 2020, should approach the New Year thinking about how they can continue to best protect themselves and their employees moving forward. While New Zealand’s quick and comprehensive response to COVID-19 has left the country in an excellent position compared to the rest of the world, the lesson of COVID-19 extends to everyone: Be prepared.

For those New Zealand businesses taking time now to judiciously plan for the future, below is a comprehensive guide to building an effective health and safety program based on the Health and Safety at Work act.

health and safety at work act

Understanding How Health & Safety is Regulated in New Zealand

The Health and Safety at Work Act, the document governing health and safety among businesses in New Zealand, is an excellent place for businesses to begin designing their respective health and safety programs. Enforced and managed by the Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment, the Health and Safety at Work Act lays out a series of guides, codes and insightful best practices around which every health and safety measure should be based. In particular, the act provides businesses with an understanding of who is responsible, what they should do, and how they should act in situations in which health and safety is at stake.

So, what exactly are the responsibilities of businesses in New Zealand under the Health and Safety at Work Act?

Reasonably identifying the hazards and risks of the business.

While most hazards and risks are obvious – for example: machines with exposed interlocking parts in a manufacturing facility – it’s not always clear what might be dangerous and what’s not. Partnering with a responsible and reliable third-party like HasTrak can be tremendously advantageous for businesses who want an objective assessment of potential hazards and risks. Particularly as COVID has raised new concerns for employers, now is an excellent time for New Zealand businesses to seek the perspective of a third-party.

Establishing a system to manage risks and hazards long-term.

It’s not enough that business leaders simply be aware of the risks and hazards present in their business. Appropriate action must be taken to ensure a comprehensive system is in place for avoiding and responding to hazardous situations. In many cases, these actions require some level of employee buy in, meaning employees should be included in the development of health and safety programs – in fact the WorkAct requires it. According to the WorkAct reference guide, “workplaces have better health and safety outcomes when workers have a say about health and safety. Workers are the eyes and ears of the business and know where the health and safety pressure points are.”

Ensure employees have the competencies and training required to do the job safely.

While this may seem obvious, many businesses struggle to know just how competent and well-trained their employees are until something goes wrong. Businesses should not wait for something to go wrong. Instead, businesses should work with their employees and partner with third-party consultants to better grasp the level of safety their employees employ in their work. They should also carefully assess their current training programs, analyse whether they are enough, and if they should be doing more to protect their business and their employees.

health and safety at work act NZ

Responsibilities Under the Health and Safety at Work Act for Workplace Incidents

Okay, but what happens if something does go wrong?

While there is a great deal businesses can do to avoid disaster, inevitably something always goes wrong. In these scenarios, businesses will be judged not on how they worked to avoid the situation, but how they handle the event or problem now that it’s occurred.

It’s important to note that when something does go wrong, WorkSafe, the inspectorate body associated with the Health and Safety at Work act, will triage their response based on the following criteria:

  1. Does the business have a health and safety system in place?
  2. Was the hazard properly identified?
  3. Was/were the victim(s) made aware of the hazard?
  4. Was/were the victim(s) inducted?
  5. Was/were the victim(s) trained and competent in the task?

Rather than frame your response in a defensive way, assess the situation in the same way WorkSafe might. If your answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you likely have a problem. If you can firmly answer each question with “yes”, however, let WorkSafe be a partner to you in resolving the issue at hand.

To understand your responsibilities, appropriate response and best practice for notifiable health and safety incidents take a look at our blog (link).

What exactly does a health and safety system include?

Depending on the business, the development of a comprehensive health and safety system can be a fairly involved process.

Every system includes the following forms, which should be carefully crafted and implemented with the goal of creating an air-tight health and safety system. These health and safety forms should cover:

  • Identified hazards and risks
  • Hazard and risk controls
  • Safety inspections
  • Safety meetings
  • Safety inductions
  • Accident reporting
  • Accident/rehab forms
  • Emergency action/drills
  • Safe work documents (pre-start checks, permits, procedures, JSA’s)
  • Specific policy statements/advice

If your business does not have a health and safety program in place, or if it’s been some time since you last updated your system, it may be wise to partner with a third-party health and safety consultant. An objective assessment of your business’ current system helps to ask the questions and provide the guidance needed to establish a highly effective and comprehensive health and safety program.

Take the guesswork out of health and safety and partner with HasTrak today.

Health and safety consulting companies offer “off the shelf” solutions, which can be a good solution for some companies, but only if they are well-written and easy to understand. It is a

waste of your time and an added liability to your business if your new manual simply languishes on the shelf gathering dust because it is too difficult to understand.

At HasTrak, we make health and safety simple. We prioritize making systems that are easy to understand, and clearly convey what you need to do and when you need to do it.

We not only provide simple, plain-English health and safety systems, but also the means to ensure that your business remains compliant long-term. Too many businesses risk going bankrupt over fines following simple workplace accidents; fines that can easily be avoided by knowing what you’re working with, and having your paperwork up to date. Don’t hesitate, reach out now to connect with a HasTrak Health and Safety professional today!

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