Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

'You need us to stay out of jail' - cold call

Cowboys stoking fears over new health and safety regime, says watchdog
WorkSafe NZ  is warning people to be careful when considering an audit or staff training. Photo / iStock
WorkSafe NZ is warning people to be careful when considering an audit or staff training. Photo / iStock

Businesses are being cold-called by cowboy consultants about new health and safety rules and being told "you need us to keep you out of jail", a government agency says.

WorkSafe NZ is warning people to be careful when considering an audit or staff training - saying unscrupulous companies are taking advantage of confusion at an overhaul of health and safety rules.

It is working with an industry body to establish an accredited register for health and safety consultants, and has moved to calm fears school principals might be locked up or fined $600,000 if accidents occur - leading to some schools to reconsider camps.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 comes into effect on April 4.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse has cautioned businesses to choose consultants wisely after being made aware of sales pitches "overreaching" on the impacts of the law change.

Gordon MacDonald, chief executive of WorkSafe, said the vast majority of businesses would not need to make changes, and could rely on information freely available on his department's website. "For those people who are being cold-called by consultants, do your own research to validate what they are telling you is true, because some might be saying that, 'you need us to keep you out of jail', or whatever - a rather alarmist message which is not actually born out by the facts."

WorkSafe is working with the Health and Safety Association of New Zealand, an umbrella organisation for workplace health and safety professions, to develop a register of competent industry professionals.

The principal of Rotorua's John Paul College, Patrick Walsh, also a spokesman for the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand, said some school leaders were nervous about the changes had spent sizeable amounts of money on health and safety auditing or support.

Under the new act, those with significant management influence over a workplace - including principals - may be subject to prosecution and a fine of up to $600,000 and five years in jail if they fail to meet the duty of due diligence.

Mr MacDonald said fears resulting from the new legislation were unfounded, and the duty of taking practicable steps to ensure health and safety had not changed in 25 years.

- NZ Herald

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