Sabbatical Image

Huge changes ahead for health and safety

Ani Bennett, May 2014

New Zealand’s biggest occupational health and safety reform in 20 years has taken its next step, with the Government calling for feedback on its 166-page discussion document outlining proposals for new health and safety regulations.

The discussion document is called "Developing regulations to support Health and Safety at Work Act”.

The proposed regulations are part of the Government’s ‘Working Safer’ package of reforms, which aim to reduce New Zealand’s rate of fatalities and serious injuries in the workplace by at least 25% by 2020.  The purpose of the discussion document is for stakeholders to provide feedback in the form of submissions on the proposed regulations to ensure the new health and safety framework is "practical and robust". 

The discussion document covers proposed regulation in the following areas:

  • General risk and workplace management;
  • Worker participation, engagement and representation;
  • Work involving asbestos;
  • Work involving hazardous substances; and
  • Major hazard facilities.
The first chapter of the document sets out a high level overview of all of the proposals. The remaining paragraphs provide more detail, and pose questions for stakeholders, in relation to the specific regulations.  The paragraphs on risk and worker participation are likely to be applicable to all workplaces.  The remaining chapters are specific to particular hazards/industries.

Key dates

  • 18 July 2014 - Deadline for submissions on the discussion document to be sent to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
  • 13 September 2014 – The Select Committee is due to report on submissions to the Bill.
  • April 2015 – The Health and Safety Reform Bill 2014 is expected to be enacted (to be called the Health and Safety at Work Act) and the first tranche of supporting regulations will be in place.
  • April 2017 – The second tranche of regulations will be in place.  

The second phase of regulations

The second phase of regulations will be developed within two years of the new Act coming into effect. As part of this phase, the regulations that were transferred from the current regime will be replaced by new regulations that will address:

  • hazardous work
  • plant and structures
  • geothermal operations
  • quarries

MBIE will also review the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) provisions that will be transferred to the work health and safety regime and consider whether any further industry-specific regulations (such as regulations for the construction industry) are required.

As foreshadowed in the Working Safer reform package, the Bill will replace the existing occupational health and safety legislation, including the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (HSEA).  The new Bill is based on the Australian Model Health and Safety Law. 

Key changes

There are substantial changes ahead for health and safety. The key changes include:  

  • new definition of duty holder or ‘PCBU’ (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking), to replace existing definitions, including "employer" and "principal";
  • new qualifier definition of "so far as is reasonably practicable" to replace "all practicable steps";
  • new general duty for PCBUs to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of:
  • workers they have engaged; or
  • workers whose activities are influenced or directed by the PCBU; or
  • other persons;
  • introducing due diligence obligations for directors and senior managers;
  • new duty where more than one person has a duty in relation to the same matter: each duty holder has an obligation to consult and coordinate activities with all other persons who have a duty in relation to the same matter;
  • increased worker participation requirements (health and safety reps would have the power to issue notices to stop work due to safety issues);
  • increased enforcement tool for the Government agency WorkSafe NZ, including the power to issue improvement notices, prohibition notices, non-disturbance notices, suspension notices, and to accept enforceable undertakings;
  • significantly increased penalties for corporate entities and individuals; and
  • amendments to related legalisation, including the ACC Act 2001 and the Employment Relations Act 2000. 

Prepare for the changes

The changes are sweeping and will likely affect every workplace in New Zealand. All businesses need to keep informed of these changes and prepare for the much stricter regulatory regime for health and safety in New Zealand that is coming in 2015.


Tauranga Chambers:

Jackson Reeves Lawyers Building
31 Hamilton Street

Waihi Chambers:

Clark & Gay Lawyers Building
61 Seddon Street