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Health and Safety Committees are a way to engage workers in the health and safety decisions that affect them. New Zealand health and safety law formally provides for these committees. If you run a large business, it is compulsory to accept workers’ requests to start a Health and Safety Committee if you receive one. Your business has both benefits and obligations in having a Health and Safety Committee. This article will explain what Health and Safety Committees are, when your business is required to have one, and your obligations if a committee is in place.

What Is a Health and Safety Committee?

Health and Safety Committees aim to include workers in business decisions around new health and safety policies and procedures. They also discuss how those policies and procedures work in practice and whether any changes are required. Health and safety is always a team effort, requiring buy-in from both management and workers.

The most important functions of a Health and Safety Committee are to:

  • streamline ways the business can cooperate on practices to protect workers’ health and safety (both in terms of physical and mental health); 
  • assist in developing standards, rules, policies and procedures for health and safety in the workplace;
  • make recommendations to management relating to health and safety in the workplace; and
  • carry out other tasks that the business and the committee agree upon. Different businesses will task committees with different things, often depending on the industry.

Note that there are some requirements for Health and Safety Committees. They must meet regularly, at least once every three months. However, they can agree with the time themselves, and meet more often if they would like to. They also must convene a meeting if a majority of the committee requests a meeting. These requirements are to make committees suitably active and represent workers promptly.

When Does My Business Need a Health and Safety Committee?

If your business receives a request from five or more workers to form a Health and Safety Committee, you have a legal duty to consider the request. If you want to reject the request, you must offer a valid explanation and show that you have genuinely considered the request. As a business leader, it is in your interests to accept a request on most occasions.

There are further requirements on certain businesses regarding Health and Safety Committees. Suppose your business is in a ‘high-risk industry’, or has 20 workers or more. In that case, you are not allowed to decline a request to form a Health and Safety Committee unless you already have sufficient worker engagement processes for health and safety.

In terms of what a ‘high-risk industry’ means, WorkSafe (New Zealand’s health and safety regulator) provides the following list:

  • forestry and logging;
  • fishing, hunting, and trapping;
  • coal mining;
  • food product manufacturing;
  • water supply, sewerage, and drainage services;
  • waste collection, treatment, and disposal services;
  • building construction;
  • heavy and civil engineering construction; and
  • construction services.

What Are My Business’ Obligations in Working With a Health and Safety Committee?

Health and Safety Committees provide your business with a useful opportunity to ensure that health and safety policies and practices have buy-in among your workers and are being implemented on the ground. Your business’s obligations to work with your Health and Safety Committee are in line with this. Your business must:

  • consult with the Health and Safety Committee about health and safety matters;
  • allow each member of the Committee to spend as much time as necessary to attend meetings or carry out functions as a member of the committee; and
  • provide the Health and Safety Committee with the information required to perform its functions, including information relating to hazards and workers’ health and safety. 

Suppose the Health and Safety Committee makes a recommendation regarding health and safety. In that case, your business must either adopt the recommendation or provide a written statement advising the committee of the reasons why you are not adopting the recommendation.

Key Takeaways

Health and Safety Committees are a way for your business’ workers to say your business should manage health and safety. This includes developing new policies and practices, the ongoing management of hazards and risk mitigation, and making recommendations to management. In most cases, you should accept any request from workers to start a Health and Safety Committee. If your business is in a ‘high risk’ industry or has more than 20 workers, you have a legal obligation to accept any request to start a Health and Safety Committee.

If you have any questions about Health and Safety Committees, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

FAQs

What is a Health and Safety Committee?

A Health and Safety Committee gives workers a voice and place to engage with health and safety decisions at a business.

How is a Health and Safety Committee formed?

If five or more workers submit a Health and Safety Committee request, the business is obligated to at least consider the request. Businesses with 20 or more workers, or in a high-risk industry, must accept the request.

What do Health and Safety Committees do?

Health and Safety Committees complete a range of different health and safety functions. This includes developing new health and safety policies and practices, engaging with the business’ management of hazards and risk mitigation, and making recommendations to management.

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