The Health and Safety Reform Bill, which started its slow progress last year, took another step forward in late July with its second reading in Parliament.
Meanwhile, tragically preventable accidents, particularly in high risk sectors such as quarrying, forestry, farming, manufacturing, transport and construction, keep the pressure on for better safety outcomes.
The lengthy gestation period of the proposed legislation has aggravated employer uncertainty about the implications of the proposed legislation and its wider definitions of who is responsible for health and safety. The Bill introduces the concept of a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking or ‘PCBU’. PCBUs will have primary duty of care for health and safety at work.
A PCBU will usually be a business entity, such as a company, rather than an individual person, but may also be a sole trader or a self-employed person. A not-for-profit organisation that employs admin staff might also be a PCBU.
Upstream PCBUs, such as suppliers of workplace plant, substances and structures, also have duties under the proposed legislation. Where a project involves multiple PCBUs, they will have a duty to consult and work together to ensure safe workplaces. Workers and some volunteers will also have duties under the Act.
Pushback to the Bill in Parliament has centred on concerns about the impact of the legislation on small businesses, worst case scenario being excessive red tape with no reduction in accidents. This has driven some adjustments. While the law will apply to all businesses in New Zealand, regardless of size, it is anticipated that there will be some distinctions between conditions for low risk small businesses and high risk. For example:
- Low-risk small businesses will need worker participation processes that are effective for their business needs, size and risk but won’t have to respond to a worker request to have a H&S representative or committee, whereas
- High-risk small businesses will need to have a H&S safety representative if their workers request them
The Bill is on course to be passed in the second half of 2015. It is anticipated there will be some months between when the Bill is passed and when it comes into force to make sure duty holders are aware of their responsibilities under the new law.
What businesses can do in the meantime…
Ahead of the legislation, bodies such as ACC are keen to help businesses be proactive about health and safety. ACC has a range of programmes to help different businesses assess their systems, evaluate whether they are suitable to how the business works and the people affected, and make any improvements needed. The aim is to make sure each business has the right health and safety processes for its people and operations. Businesses that successfully complete these programmes enjoy reduced ACC levies and the benefits of the ACC tools and resources made available through the programmes.
We expect that you already have procedures in place to assess risk and manage hazards. If you are not sure whether these are robust enough, there is a good opportunity here to review and strengthen your safety systems.