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 this year.
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.
"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.
"The purpose of Flag's submission to the select committee is to support the objectives of the Bill while ensuring it reflects the complex environment ... in the freight logistics industry," she said.