Rebecca Cook explains how you can insure yourself against penalties imposed under The Health & Safety at Work Act 2015
To begin with, it's important to first understand why The Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) was introduced.
HSWA came into law in April 2016 because there was an overwhelming acknowledgement that attitudes and procedures had to change. We simply weren't taking enough care of our people in the workplace.
When it comes to workplace healthy and safety, New Zealand has a problem. Every year 50-60 people are killed in workplace incidents, and hundreds more die as a result of work-related ill health. Our work-related fatality statistics are three times as high as the UK and nearly twice as high as Australia. This is just not good enough. Everyone who goes to work deserves to come home healthy and safe. www.WorkSafe.govt.nz, Oct 2016
Therefore, HSWA requires that all company directors, employers, employees, contractors and visitors comply with rigorous work-safe practices. It's not just their legal responsibility; it's their moral responsibility too.
Failure to follow the revised code of practice not only puts individuals at risk of serious injury (or worse) but can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment and fines of up to $3,000,000.
Debunking the myth
As an independent health & safety consultant, I often speak to people who tell me, "I'm not worried about being fined under the Act. My insurance will cover me."
But this is not true.
If you are prosecuted under HSWA, no type of insurance – public liability, professional indemnity, or otherwise – will cover your penalties.
If you are forced to pay reparations to an injured party or their dependants, then you may (and I stress, may) be covered, but you will still have to settle your fines yourself.
This was illustrated in the 2016 court case of a Wellington builder who was fined after a worker fell from a ladder deemed unfit for purpose. Despite feeling that he had "done everything right," the builder was fined $60,000. At the hearing he talked of the stress the whole episode had caused him, and voiced his concerns that other small business owners could unknowingly be vulnerable to prosecution.
How to protect yourself, your employees and your company
The circumstances of being fined under HSWA could be genuinely horrific. Far better then to never get to that point.
Here are three practical steps you can take to help safeguard you and your people:
1. Be realistic
As with many things in life, prevention is better than cure.
Please stop thinking, "She'll be right" and instead be open and honest about your obligations. This doesn't just apply to tradies and other businesses who work on site. Office based companies also need to recognise their exposure to risk.
Pleading ignorance is no defence – legally or morally.
2. Introduce a practical Health & Safety procedure
Even if you're a sole trader, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have a formal structure in place. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to spend thousands of dollars or drown in paperwork. You could choose to adopt an online system, such as My Health & Safety, which gives you processes, templates and reporting methods, and acts as a "living record" of your compliance.
I designed My Health & Safety to be comprehensive but straightforward. My thinking is that the simpler we make the process, the more lives we're going to save.
3. Involve your team
HSWA is about shared responsibility. Staff, suppliers, associates, visitors to your site or premises all play their part in looking out for each other.
So, when your health & safety system's in place, tell everyone about it! Get them trained, ensure their understanding, and encourage and reward their participation.
You can read more about the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 – including the associated offences and penalties – at: www.worksafe.govt.nz/worksafe/hswa.