How Good is New Zealand’s Health and Safety Act?


Notes The American safety law has just turned 40, and Labour is calling for a change. They point to an under resourced regulator (about 1/5th the ratio in NZ of inspectors to population) and penalties that don’t bite; an average of only US$4k for a violation that result’s in a workers death. Interestingly, until just 2 years ago our fines were of the same order, but a High Court ruling has benchmarked and seen fines increase an order of magnitude ie low culpability now starts at NZ$50K.

The Labour Notes article calls for a new approach in the US which ‘…would require employers to assess their workplaces, determine what hazards are present, and come up with solutions. The standard doesn’t tell employers exactly how they should prevent hazards, but instead provides flexibility in determining the best way to protect employees.’

Sound familiar? It should, as it is the way our Health and Safety Act is written. The Department of Labour (or OSH) does not tell employers how to operate safely…the true test is whether any really bad, or ‘Serious Harm’ accidents occur. It’s the outcome that matters. This brings in other issues ie businesses need to report a Serious Harm accident, but most kiwis know they have to register the accident with the ACC to get funding care – which keeps businesses somewhat motivated to report. Nonetheless, most businesses end up doing nothing by way of hazard identification and reducing workplace safety accidents.

This performance based approach of the Health and Safety Act makes sense, but it somehow needs more support on the coalface; more carrots and sticks.