New Zealand's workplace health and safety numbers are sobering. Our statistics for serious harm and fatalities are three times the rate of those in the UK and more than one-and-a-half those in Australia.

"Something needs to change if those outcomes are to change," says Gordon MacDonald, chief executive of WorkSafe NZ.

The new Health and Safety at Work Act, which comes into effect on April 4, has three primary changes that are relevant to small businesses.

The first is the concept of businesses co-operating and co-ordinating their activities.


The second deals with leadership as the new law places duties on senior officers to exercise due diligence, and the third is a more explicit focus on worker engagement and participation in health and safety.

The new legislation is trying to encourage a general cultural shift in thinking.

"The long-term proposition is that we'll achieve a cultural mindset that good health and safety is good for business, so let's do the best we can to be an excellent business," says MacDonald.

Helen and Mike Mander started Heart Saver in 2012. It provides first-aid training and medics for events and supplies automated defibrillators.

The company has five full-time employees and about 15 contractors. Mike says bringing on staff prompted a big change in their perspective on managing health and safety.

"You have obligations to keep them safe," says Mike.

"It's right down to things like getting the first company car and making sure it's compliant, that the person knows how to use it, that it has a first aid kit and that you're mindful of the hours they're driving.

"It opened up a world of complexities."

Getting more ongoing employee involvement in health and safety is a message Anthony Light, operations and technical manager at food company Tasty Pot, has picked up from his investigations into the new legislation.

Light says the company is planning to introduce a new health and safety topic at its team catch-ups each month, which staff will then track and monitor.

"That's something a lot of big companies already do, but for us as a small company that will be new," says Light. "I see that as a way of involving employees on a regular basis and making it a monthly habit."