The revolutionary rules, which were formed as a result of the Pike River mining tragedy, have been described as the most significant workplace changes in 20 years.
“One of the things we learned about the Pike River mine disaster was that directors’ ignorance of health and safety failures was a defence almost and the law has changed that,” said workplace relations and safety minister Michael Woodhouse.
The new Act creates stronger individual responsibility for safe working environments and makes jail time a possibility for those who don’t comply – individuals that don’t follow the new rules face up to five years in prison and a $600,000 fine but organizations could incur financial penalties of up to $3 million.
“This is the first major reform of workplace health and safety in more than 20 years and strikes the balance between ensuring workplaces are safe without imposing unnecessary red tape on business,” said Woodhouse.
“The new law makes it clear that everyone has a role to play in health and safety. It modernises our approach to health and safety and recognises the complexity of 21st century workplaces by encouraging more communication and co-operation, both within and between businesses,” he continued.
“The Health and Safety at Work Act does not require business to eliminate all risks in the workplace at any cost - that’s not realistic,” he added. “But it does require that risks are dealt with in a sensible and proportionate way by those who are best placed to influence or control work.”
Key features of the Act include:
• Requiring businesses to identify work-related risks and do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ to eliminate or manage them.
• Ensuring everyone from company directors to casual labourers have health and safety responsibilities that reflect their ability to influence or control work.
• A new requirement for all businesses to have effective worker engagement and participation processes for health and safety matters.
• A new duty on company officers to exercise due diligence when it comes to health and safety.
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Long-heralded new health and safety legislation comes into play today with experts saying the legislation will bring major change to New Zealand workplaces.