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While it is not a requirement to have a health and safety policy, it is best practice to do so. The legal requirements for your business depend on the circumstances of your work and industry. As a general rule, you need to ensure your workers’ health and safety so far as reasonably practicable. Certain health and safety documents (like a policy) can be useful tools to do so. This article will explain: 

  • what a health and safety policy is;
  • your business’ health and safety obligations; and
  • the health and safety documents your business should consider. 

What Is A Health And Safety Policy?

There is no one-size-fits-all health and safety policy, as what the document will contain can and should change depending on your workplace and industry. 

For example, a forestry company will have very different health and safety risks and requirements compared to an accountancy.

However, there are some common features of most health and safety policies. Generally, the policy will explain how a safe and healthy workplace will be created, what steps your business will take to maintain that workplace, and cover monitoring as well. Usually, this will also entail specific procedures and steps to help minimise hazards.

Health and safety policies are not mandated by law. This is partially because what health and safety details should be documented will change from workplace to workplace. On the other hand, almost all businesses do have some form of health and safety policy. It makes it significantly easier to ensure good health and safety practices at a business when there are clear details, goals and processes set out on paper. It is considered best practice to commit these to a policy that also reflects engagement with staff on their health and safety views. 

What Are Your Health And Safety Obligations?

In New Zealand, almost all businesses are considered ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’, usually known by the acronym PCBU. PCBUs owe legal duties under health and safety law, meaning that there are certain obligations that will apply to your business in terms of keeping workers and customers safe.

These obligations are useful to consider when thinking about what documentation or policies your business should have in terms of health and safety. Your business owes a primary duty of care, for instance, to ensure your workers’ health and safety so far as reasonably practicable. Another obligation for your business is to ensure that other people are not put at risk by work activities. These people might be visitors to the workplace or members of the public who could be affected by the business’ work.

What Health And Safety Documents Should Your Business Have?

The key thing to consider in terms of health and safety documentation is what works best for your business. Different kinds of documents will be useful in different contexts, and you and your employees will know the key risks and hazards in your specific workplace. It is a good idea to be adaptive to different circumstances. For instance, if pinning up a laminated image of how to safely use a machine is more realistic and accessible instead of expecting workers to read a complicated instruction manual or policy, then you should do that.

One document to consider having is an incident register to help identify where the actual risks and hazards in your business might be. An incident register should include: 

  • near misses;
  • incidents; and
  • occupational illnesses (or signs of such illnesses).

And it is also a good idea to have the register take note of:

  • who was involved or affected by the incident;
  • what happened;
  • where and when it happened; and
  • what happened after the event. 

Key Takeaways

It is not a legal requirement to have a health and safety policy in New Zealand. Most businesses in New Zealand do have a health and safety policy or a similar document, however, as it is a useful way to document your business’ approach, goals, and systems around health and safety. The key in New Zealand is to use documents that best suit your business’ specific circumstances and the needs of your employees. Minimising risks to health and safety is the emphasis in New Zealand, rather than having specific documents.

If you want to know more about health and safety and how to tailor your business’ health and safety policies and documents more generally, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legally required to have a health and safety policy in New Zealand?

No, it is not. However, it is generally considered best practice to have a health and safety policy. 

Do all businesses have health and safety legal obligations?

Yes. All businesses in New Zealand are PCBUs (persons conducting business or undertakings), and all PCBUs have health and safety legal obligations. The specific nature of these obligations may change, for instance depending on the industry of the business or workplace.

What is an incident register?

An incident register is a document to record any near misses, incidents or other risks to health and safety. These registers can help to track hazards or possible hazards in your business.

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