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Each year, an estimate of 900 workers die in New Zealand from work-related diseases. Death and serious injuries are also common. These accidents occur in all kinds of jobs, including office jobs. Some of the most common causes include lack of awareness about the risks or training to do their job safely. As a New Zealand employer, you must ensure your workplace is safe. Some of your obligations under the law include designing health and safety policies and keeping employees and contractors informed on potential hazards and safety measures to avoid them. This article shares best practices to ensure your workplace is safe and complies with New Zealand health and safety regulations. 

What Is Workplace Health and Safety?

Both New Zealand employers and workers (whether employees or contractors) have obligations under the law to ensure their safety at work (and any other workers who are affected by the business).

Managing health and safety at work involves: 

  • identifying and understanding the risks arising from work activities, particularly those that have the potential to cause people serious injury or illness; 
  • deciding what to do about them; and 
  • complying with policies and procedures in place. 

Your business must also look after other people whose health and safety could be at risk by the work you carry out, for example, customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public.

How to Identify Risks in Your Workplace

Health and safety risks in your workplace depend on the type of work that your business does. They arise from hazards in your workplace, which can be anything from a slippery floor to a machine not adequately guarded. 

You need to identify all types of hazards, not just the physical ones, for example, dangers to health such as chemical solvents, and psychological hazards such as work-related stress.

Risks have two components:

  • the likelihood of occurrence; and 
  • the consequences or degree of harm that the risk can cause. 

There is a standard process for managing risks in the workplace. As an employer, you need to prioritise risks in order of significance and monitor your activities regularly to identify any new risks that require management.

What Are Your Obligations as an Employer?

If you hire workers in New Zealand, you must understand your obligations under the law to ensure your workplace is safe. You need to assess and manage any risks in your workplace and design health and safety procedures to eliminate or mitigate these risks. You should allow your workers to contribute to health and safety decisions in your workplace, and they must respect all policies and procedures. 

To design health and safety policies for your workplace, firstly, you must determine what health and safety risks you can reasonably eliminate. If this is not possible, you must work through a series of controls to decide how to minimise or control these risks.

The New Zealand WorkSafe website provides a diagram with a hierarchy of controls to help you work out the most effective measures. WorkSafe is the government agency that regulates health and safety in New Zealand workplaces.

How to Create a Safe Workplace

As an employer in New Zealand, health and safety laws require you to provide your workers with:

  • safe machinery, vehicles, tools and equipment;
  • free personal protective equipment;
  • training to identify and manage known hazards, and what to do in an emergency;
  • adequate supervision of hazardous jobs; 
  • procedures to report and record incidents; and
  • representatives of health and safety in your workplace.

Other methods to create a safe workplace include:

  • minimising the risk of psychological harm in your workplace by: 
    • reducing excessive workplace stress that may occur through bullying, overwork or a lack of autonomy; and
    • implementing clear workplace policies to allow employees to make complaints;
  • offering an Employee Assistance Program to help your workers manage their wellbeing. For example, by providing free and confidential individual advice and support, such as counselling, workshops or training programs.

Can Your Workers Refuse to Perform Tasks They Consider Unsafe?

Any employee or contractor can refuse work if they believe it is dangerous. Also, if they believe it poses a risk to themselves or others. However, they also have their own obligations under the law, such as: 

  • taking reasonable care of their own health and safety at work; 
  • ensuring they do not cause harm to anyone else in the workplace; and 
  • complying with any reasonable instructions, policies or procedures that their workplace has on how to work safely and healthily. For example, using the right tools and equipment, reporting problems and turning equipment on and off.

How to Inform Your Workers About Health and Safety

As an employer, you must also ensure that your workers have easy access to your health and safety policies and procedures. Some useful methods to communicate this information include:

  • adding health and safety guidelines to your employee handbook;
  • placing notices and posters throughout your workplace;
  • handing out brochures and pamphlets; 
  • holding safety briefings at the start of the workday to inform employees of health and safety updates and demonstrate safe working procedures. 

Key Takeaways

Identifying and managing health and safety risks in your workplace is required under New Zealand law. To manage risks, you need to firstly identify physical, physiological and health-related hazards in your workplace. These risks apply to both employees and contractors, as well as any other people whose health and safety could be at risk by the work of your business, for example, customers and visitors. Once you identify these risks, you have to design health and safety procedures to eliminate or mitigate them and communicate these to your staff. Your workers can contribute to health and safety decisions in your workplace, and they have an obligation under the law to respect all policies and procedures in place. 

If you need help with drafting or reviewing your health and safety policies or managing a dispute with an employee or contractor, LegalVision’s employment lawyers can help. Call 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is health and safety in the workplace?

In New Zealand, workers, regardless of their employment type, have rights under the law to carry out their work in a safe environment.

What is a risk assessment in health and safety?

Risk assessment in the context of health and safety involves identifying and understanding work-related health and safety risks and hazards. Hazards can be physical, health-related or psychological. You then need to do what is reasonable and practicable to eliminate or minimise those risks.

What are an employer’s health and safety responsibilities?

As an employer, you have obligations under New Zealand health and safety laws to assess and manage any risks in your workplace and design health and safety procedures to eliminate or mitigate these risks. For example, you need to provide your workers with safe machinery, vehicles, tools and equipment; free personal protective equipment; and training to identify and manage known hazards, and what to do in an emergency.

What are the best ways of communicating health and safety information to workers?

As an employer, you must also ensure that your workers have easy access to your health and safety policies and procedures. Some effective channels to communicate this information include their employee handbook, notices and posters and safety briefings.

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