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Health and safety protections

Overview of the health and safety laws

Your employer has a general duty to protect your health and safety at work, as far as this is reasonable. They also have some more specific duties, like making sure machinery and equipment is safe, and making sure you have the training and supervision you need.

These health and safety duties apply not just to your physical work environment but also to your psychological work environment. This could cover issues like work-related stress and fatigue resulting from heavy workloads, deadlines, shift work or overtime.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 deals with health and safety issues in all workplaces and during all work activities. The Act provides a range of enforcement methods for when someone doesn’t comply with the Act. It also requires employers to involve their workers in improving health and safety (“worker participation”).

Who’s responsible for health and safety in the workplace?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 36

The main responsibility for health and safety in your workplace lies with your employer, or whoever else is responsible for the work. The Health and Safety at Work Act gives them what it calls the “primary duty” for health and safety (see below, “What health and safety duties does my employer owe me?”).

This includes businesses, government departments, local councils and schools, and also not-for-profit organisations that employ staff.

But people other than your employer also have some health and safety duties in the workplace, like people who control or manage a workplace, such as the building owner or the head contractor on a building project where you’re working for a subcontractor or where you’re employed by a labour hire company.

Employees and others doing work also have responsibilities to themselves and others (see below, “Your health and safety duties as an employee”).

Who’s protected by the health and safety laws?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 19, 36(1)

The main protections of the Health and Safety at Work Act cover the following people:

  • Paid workers – This includes employees; independent contractors and subcontractors; employees of labour hire companies working at the worksite of a third party like a construction company; homeworkers and outworkers; and apprentices and trainees.
  • On work experience / trials – You’re also covered if you’re working unpaid because you’re on work experience or a work trial.
  • Some regular volunteers – The Act covers a limited category of volunteers who do regular and ongoing work. You’re protected as one of these volunteers (called “volunteer workers” in the Act) only if:
    • the organisation you volunteer for employs one or more staff, and
    • the volunteer work you do is regular and ongoing and is an “integral part” of the organisation, and
    • you’re not involved in any of the following exempted activities: fundraising; helping with sport or recreation (like coaching your child’s team for their school or club); helping schools or other educational institutions with off-site trips and activities; or providing care in your own home.

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 36(2)

Note: Volunteers who aren’t “volunteer workers” – either because they’re more casual volunteers or because they do one of the exempted activities – are owed a lesser health and safety duty by the organisation they’re working for. The organisation must make sure the health and safety of these volunteers isn’t put at risk by the organisation’s work. This is the same duty as applies to visitors, customers and others who don’t do any work for the organisation.

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Employment conditions and protections

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and, depending on your situation, may also be able to provide ongoing support.

“Pregnancy Rights: Your legal options during and after pregnancy” (booklet)

This booklet contains practical answers to questions about pregnancy and the law, and includes information on sexual health and consent, options after a positive pregnancy test, healthcare, education, housing and more.

Order hard copies from:

Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley

Phone (04) 499 2928

Email: publications@wclc.org.nz or visit www.communitylaw.org.nz to buy a copy or access free online

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment


Free phone 0800 20 90 20, for general enquiries about employment relations, pay and holidays.

The Employment website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment publishes a range of publications on employment relations and minimum rights at work.

Labour inspectors

Labour inspectors monitor and enforce minimum employment conditions. To refer a problem to a labour inspector, you contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment on:

Free phone 0800 20 90 20

Worksafe New Zealand, Mahi Haumaru Aotearoa


Free phone: 0800 030 040

Worksafe New Zealand’s website has a range of information and publications on workplace health and safety issues.

Parental leave payments


The Inland Revenue website has information on parental leave payments.

Whistle-blowing (“Protected disclosures” by employees)


Free phone: 0800 802 602
Email: info@ombudsman.parliament.nz

The Office of the Ombudsman provides information and guidance to employees about making a protected disclosure.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Te Kauae Kaimahi


Phone: (04) 385 1334
Email: info@nzctu.org.nz

The NZCTU is the umbrella body for affiliated unions covering every job and industry in New Zealand. It can provide information about which union may cover the type of work you do.

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

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