Reading time: 5 minutes

WorkSafe is New Zealand’s workplace health and safety regulator. They carry out thousands of inspections each year into different businesses and workplaces. WorkSafe aims to identify any health and safety law breaches, prevent harm, and promote best practices. They have the legal authority to inspect and prosecute your business if they believe it violates health and safety laws. This article will explain the role of WorkSafe, how its inspections work and give some tips on what to expect from a typical inspection.

The Role of WorkSafe

As New Zealand’s regulator for health and safety, WorkSafe has a range of responsibilities and roles. They are known for its inspectors and prosecutions, but it has a broader role in being a leader in the health and safety space. They also have an important collaborative function. Additionally, WorkSafe aims to work with businesses, unions, worker representatives and a range of other actors to expand knowledge and best practices.

WorkSafe’s two key responsibilities include preventing harm and system leadership. This involves:

  • targeting critical risks at all levels, from small businesses to industry groups;
  • delivering targeted interventions to address key health and safety functions (including workforce capability, worker engagement and effective governance);
  • influencing attitudes and behaviours in businesses and workplaces to improve health and safety risk management;
  • leading, influencing and leveraging the health and safety system (including other regulators) to improve health and safety outcomes; and
  • leading by example through WorkSafe’s own good practices.

How WorkSafe Inspections Work

WorkSafe carries out thousands of workplace inspections each year. These often match the organisation’s key areas of focus, whether based on serious risks (like mental health and stress in the workplace) or industry.

Further, inspections are typically proactive, planned visits. A report of serious harm or a health and safety complaint do not usually trigger inspections. However, such complaints or reports may trigger an inspection in some cases. Prosecutions are rare.

At least 80% of workplace inspections are targeted to industries identified as high-risk. These include:

  • 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.

4 Steps to a Typical WorkSafe Inspection

WorkSafe has described their typical inspection as a system of four main steps.

Step 1: Conversation 

Firstly, the inspector will sit down with you (as the business leader) and discuss health and safety. This is usually an open discussion where WorkSafe is looking to learn about your business, the risks you have identified and the kinds of things the business is doing to minimise them.

Step 2: Observation

Secondly, the inspector will walk around your office or workplace to see if what you have described in terms of health and safety matches what they actually see happening.

Step 3: Examination 

Thirdly, if the inspection raises any particular concerns, the WorkSafe inspector will go into more detail to discover what might be causing an issue.

Step 4: Documentation

Fourthly, the inspector might also ask to see what kind of systems or policies you keep in your business. This could include anything from machine maintenance logs to training certificates for your staff. WorkSafe’s priority is considering whether your systems and records support good health and safety practice in your business.

There is no reason to be concerned if WorkSafe lets you know that they are inspecting your business. These inspections are routine, standard, and not aimed to be antagonistic or adversarial. Further, the inspector will just be looking to check that your business has robust health and safety policies and practices, and is complying with its obligations under health and safety law.

Key Takeaways

WorkSafe is New Zealand’s regulator for health and safety in the workplace. They have various roles, including carrying out inspections and collaboratively working with businesses, unions, worker representatives and a range of other actors. WorkSafe inspections usually involve:

  • open discussion with you as the business leader; 
  • observation and examination of the workplace itself; and 
  • a check of your documentation. 

A common misconception is that inspections always result in prosecutions: in fact, most WorkSafe inspections do not result in prosecutions. If you have any questions about WorkSafe or its inspections, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.


What is WorkSafe?

WorkSafe is New Zealand’s workplace health and safety regulator. WorkSafe’s role is to enforce health and safety laws, promote best practices, and educate businesses about their obligations.

What are WorkSafe inspections?

WorkSafe inspectors carry out thousands of workplace inspections every year to check your business’ health and safety policies and practices and inspect whether the workplace is safe. They will typically discuss all of this with you as a first step.

WorkSafe is inspecting my business. Does that mean they are likely to prosecute?

No. WorkSafe carries out thousands of inspections every year and relatively few result in any prosecutions.

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a commercial law firm that provides businesses with affordable and ongoing legal assistance through our industry-first membership.

By becoming a member, you'll have an experienced legal team ready to answer your questions, draft and review your contracts, and resolve your disputes. All the legal assistance your business needs, for a low monthly fee.

Learn more about our membership

Need Legal Help? Submit an Enquiry

If you would like to get in touch with our team and learn more about how our membership can help your business, fill out the form below.

Our Awards

  • 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn
  • 2020 Innovation Award 2020 Excellence in Technology & Innovation Finalist – Australasian Law Awards
  • 2020 Employer of Choice Award 2020 Employer of Choice Winner – Australasian Lawyer
  • 2020 Financial Times Award 2021 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2021 Law Firm of the Year Award 2021 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards
  • 2022 Law Firm of the Year Winner 2022 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards