Health & Safety law changes aim to cut red tape

Proposed changes to health and safety legislation includes some clarification which should be good news for HR managers.

Health & Safety law changes aim to cut red tape
The government is proposing changes to New Zealand’s health and safety legislation which it says will cut red tape; but opponents are concerned that it will reduce the impact of the law and leave workers more vulnerable.

Law firm Chapman Trip has taken a look at the proposals and concludes that the bill is “more focused” than previous proposals and that many of its amendments “sensibly assist with compliance.”

Among the main changes are a redefinition of the meaning of an ‘officer’ of a company. Currently the term can include anyone who makes decisions that affect part or all of a business but it is proposed that it should only refer to those who have significant influence over the running of the business. This would mean that a CEO would still be classes as an officer but an advisor would almost certainly not be.

The main effect of this change would be to ensure that those at the top level of management would continue to be criminally responsible for health and safety failings but some lower management would not be. Chapman Tripp highlights that this will strengthen the resolve of senior management to ensure that those further down the line are complying with health and safety policies and laws.

The Bill also proposes some clarification into what constitutes ‘a workplace’ including recognition that a workplace may cease to be a workplace in certain circumstances; for example on completion of work at that location. It will also remove any ambiguity regarding responsibility of businesses for anyone on work premises unlawfully, including trespassers.

Smaller businesses will be able to refuse employees’ requests for a health and safety representative to be appointed; however workers will still be able to refuse to work in conditions they deem to be unsafe until the matter has been resolved; and it must be able to show that there is effective workers’ participation in health and safety matters.

The new Act is intended to be introduced fully by 31 October and Chapman Tripp is advising that businesses prepare for the changes sooner rather than later.

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