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‚ÄčThe much-anticipated Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW Act) is well and truly in effect, but what does it mean for those in the industry? Despite the best efforts of some media outlets, the new law is no reason to panic.

With the new Act in force since April, there has been an added level of responsibility placed on all members of the New Zealand construction workforce to provide and observe a safe working environment. The Act applies to all industries across NZ, though bears particular significance to the challenging environments of the hardware and construction industries where there is a higher risk of injuries. 

What will the HSW Act do?

Most workers in the channel are aware and observe their requirements when it comes to health and safety, so the new law will simply reinforce what they know and follow. That said, when it comes to safety, a regular refresher is always a positive. In contrast, if someone has been unaware of any neglect they have shown, the new law presents an excellent and exciting opportunity to conduct internal and external reviews of their health and safety practises.

The new HSW Act is focused on protecting workers and others against harm to their health, safety and well-being by eliminating and minimising risks in their working environment. The new Act is one element of a reform package that aims to bring down the number of work-related illnesses, injuries and fatalities. The goal is to see these all reduce by 25 per cent by 2020.

Changes in roles and how you fit in

As the new Act is being enforced, with it comes new terms that have been introduced for you to become familiar with. Here's a quick guide explaining the role definitions, where you fit in and how the Act may impact on you.

PCBU

The term PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) is one the new terms introduced in the Act. A PCBU refers to a business entity and can also be an individual running their own business. For instance, a builder operating as a sole trader constitutes a PCBU.

The responsibility of the PCBU is to have the primary duty care, ensuring the safety of workers. It is their duty to provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and risk-free with plans, structures and systems of work. It is also their responsibility to provide the necessary training, instruction and supervision to protect all persons as well as providing the relevant information to help workers prevent injury or illness. 

Officers

Officers refer to chief executives, directors and roles of a similar level, people who hold senior positions. In essence, people with significant influence on the running or management of the business. Someone who acts simply in an advisory role is not considered an officer.

One big change that has come under the new Act is that officers are now personally liable if they fail to oblige to their due diligence. If you are a sole trader then the responsibilities of a PCBU also fall onto you. 

An officer must consistently exercise due diligence. The tasks that an officer must undertake include:

  • Understanding the nature of the hazards and risks that may occur in the workplace; ensuring that the necessary resources and processes are in place to minimise or eliminate risks. 

  • Making sure there are processes in place for receiving and responding to incidents. 

  • Verifying that the necessary health and safety processes are in place, used and understood.

Workers

Any individual who works under, or follows instruction from, the PCBU is considered a worker. This includes employees, contractors and sub-contractors. As well as this, under the new Act, workers can also include employees of labour hire companies, apprentices, students and volunteer workers.

Workers must show reasonable care to ensure the safety of themselves and others in the workplace. They follow instructions from the PCBU, cooperating with all implemented health and safety policies and procedures. As well as this, workers have the right to refuse to perform any unsafe or dangerous work.

Other persons

Anyone in the workplace who does not fall under the previously stated categories will be identified as an other person. This would include visitors or customers in the workplace. For instance, a courier driver making a delivery or collecting outgoing mail would be considered and other person.

Dispelling some myths

Speaking to Site Safe in December of last year, WorkSafe New Zealand Sector Engagement Manager Bryce Fleur helped clarify some of the issues that had been brought up in anticipation of the new Act. 

One thing that Fleur was quick to dismiss was the notion that the new Act would bring with it extra paperwork and increase compliance costs. He explained that organisations that are already exercising a responsible approach to health and safety will have very little need for adjustment. 

Another myth that was essentially 'busted' by Fleur was that all risk must be eliminated. He stressed that the nature of the work done in the industry carries certain risks and consequences.

Again, it cannot be expressed or reiterated enough that all risks and health and safety in general are managed and mitigated at all times.