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New Zealand law takes health and safety very seriously. The potential penalties for any person or business that breaches the Health and Safety at Work Act (the Act) are considerable. Particularly in the event of death or serious injury, the penalties can include significant jail time and massive financial penalties. There are also other non-financial penalties that can be significant, and additional penalties able to be imposed. This article will set out:

  • who can bring proceedings for a breach of the Act;
  • the potential penalties in the event of death or serious injury; and 
  • non-financial penalties to be aware of. 

The Consequences of Breaching Health and Safety Provisions

WorkSafe is New Zealand’s health and safety regulator. It is the primary organisation that brings proceedings against:

  • businesses; and
  • any other person or organisation that breaches the Act.

However, others can also bring proceedings depending on the circumstances of the health and safety breach. The limitation period differs depending on who is seeking to bring the matter to court. This is the time period in which proceedings can be brought and include that:

  • proceedings sought by WorkSafe (or another designated authority) must be brought within 12 months of the date of the incident. Or, within six months of a coronial report; and
  • private prosecutions bought by a person may be brought up to two years after the incident.

Potential Penalties For Death Or Serious Injury

The potential penalties in the event of death or serious injury are very serious. These penalties would only be issued by a court during sentencing. In other words, they cannot be unilaterally imposed by WorkSafe. WorkSafe must bring a case to a court of law. The penalties differ depending on who has actually breached the Act. Maximum penalties include:

  • a fine of an amount up to $150,000 for an individual who is not a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU);
  • a fine of an amount up to $300,000 for an individual who is a PCBU or an officer of a PCBU; or
  • a fine of an amount up to $1.5 million for any other person or companies.

Note that businesses are PCBUs, and so are typically liable for the more serious penalties. 

The penalties become more serious if the breach of health and safety law involve reckless conduct. If a court agrees that there has been reckless conduct resulting in the risk of death or serious injury, the maximum penalties increase to:

  • a term of imprisonment up to five years, or a fine of an amount up to $300,000 (or both) for an individual who is not a PCBU;
  • a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine of an amount up to $600,000 (or both) for an individual who is a PCBU or an officer of a PCBU;
  • a fine of an amount up to $3 million for any other person/companies.

Non-Financial Penalties

At the sentencing stage, a court can also impose non-financial penalties depending on the circumstances of the breach of health and safety law. These can include:

  1. adverse publicity orders, requiring the person or company who breached the Act to publicise in a particular manner the offence, its consequences, and the penalty imposed;
  2. restoration orders, requiring the person or company to take certain specific steps to ameliorate any matter caused by the offence;
  3. project orders, requiring the person or company to undertake a specific project for the general improvement of health and safety in their workplace; or
  4. court-ordered enforceable undertakings, which adjourn the proceeding for up to two years during which period the person or company undertakes to comply with certain conditions.

Key Takeaways

The penalties for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act in New Zealand are significant. Depending on the context of the breach and the severity of the conduct involved, particularly if that conduct is reckless, maximum penalties can include significant financial penalties and up to five years of imprisonment. There can also be non-financial penalties, like requiring certain changes to a business so they improve health and safety practices. If you want to know more about health and safety or the penalties imposed for breaching health and safety law, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can bring proceedings against a company for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act?

Anyone can bring proceedings against a company for breaching their health and safety obligations depending on their circumstances, but WorkSafe – New Zealand’s health and safety regulator – is responsible for most cases relating to breaches of the Act. 

Can you go to jail for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act?

Yes, penalties for severe breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act can include an imprisonment sentence of up to five years. 

What are the financial penalties for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act?

The possible financial penalties can range widely and depend on the seriousness of the breach. They can be anywhere up to $3 million dollars for extremely serious and reckless breaches.  

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