Top lawyer's health and safety warning

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Shima Grice.
Shima Grice.

A leading Tauranga employment lawyer is warning all New Zealanders to make health and safety a top priority in their workplace to avoid being held accountable under new legislation due to be passed later this year.

The Health and Safety Reform Bill, currently before a select committee, is the biggest shakeup of its kind in more than 20 years.

Sharp Tudhope Lawyers' Associate Shima Grice has made submissions on the Bill and on the draft health and safety regulations on behalf of Freight Logistics Action Group (FLAG) which represents the Bay of Plenty's freight, logistics, forestry, farming and agriculture sectors.

She said all New Zealanders needed to be aware of how the changes may affect them, not just some employees in particular industries.

"Every single workplace in New Zealand will be required to comply with the new health and safety model, so everyone will be affected," she said.

"This includes company directors, senior officers and individual employees - they will all have greater health and safety duties."

Grice said one important amendment to the Bill was that the person conducting a business or undertaking (known as a PCBU) must eliminate risks to health and safety of workers and others affected by the work so far is "reasonably practicable".

This meant they must take into account the likelihood of a hazard or risk occurring, the degree of harm that might happen as a result of that risk, ways of eliminating the hazard or risk, and the cost of eliminating it.

Failure to comply could lead to imprisonment: the Bill includes a new penalty system with a tiered liability structure which features three categories of incident liability. The most severe breach - 'reckless conduct' - can result in a $600,000 fine and/or five years' imprisonment for an individual, or a $3 million dollar fine for a company if found liable.

Even under the lesser category three penalty, senior company officers could still face a fine of up to $100,000 and companies $500,000.

Company directors will also have duties under the new law, including proactively managing health and safety by being personally involved and creating a health and safety culture within the company.

To help PCBUs manage hazards and risks, guidelines will be drafted by WorkSafe New Zealand, along with Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs). The government has also approved increased funding for inspectors to carry out education in the workplace.

"Every year there are workplace deaths that, with appropriate health and safety precautions, could be avoided. The purpose of FLAG's submission to the select committee is to support the objectives of the Bill while ensuring that it reflects the complex environment that exists in the freight logistics industry," said Ms Grice.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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