Communtity Law Manual | Employment: Conditions & protections | Duties of employers and others who control work and workplaces

Health and safety protections

Duties of employers and others who control work and workplaces

What health and safety duties does my employer owe me?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 36

Your employer has a general duty to protect your health and safety at work, as far as this is “reasonably practicable” (see below for what “reasonably practicable” means).

They also have the following specific health and safety duties:

  • to provide and maintain a risk-free work environment
  • to make sure the machinery and equipment in the workplace is safe
  • to make sure the work systems are safe
  • to make sure there are safe processes and facilities for using, handling and storing equipment and substances (chemicals for example)
  • to provide you with adequate facilities for your welfare at work, and making sure you have access to them
  • to provide all necessary information, training, instruction and supervision
  • to monitor the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace in order to prevent injuries and illness.

What does the duty to do everything “reasonably practicable” mean?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 22

Under the health and safety laws, the employer’s obligation to do everything “reasonably practicable” means doing everything that they’re reasonably able to do at the relevant time. What is reasonable here will depend on:

  • how likely it is that the particular hazard or risk will arise
  • how much harm could result
  • what the employer knows (or should know) about the hazard or risk, and about how it can be eliminated or minimised
  • whether ways of eliminating or minimising the risk are available at the time and are suitable
  • the cost of eliminating or minimising the risk.

What duties am I owed as an independent contractor?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 17, 19, 36

If you’re working as an independent contractor rather than as an employee, the person you’re working for – called a “principal” – owes the same health and safety obligations to you as employers owes their employees (see above, “What health and safety duties does my employer owe me?”). This is because the health and safety laws bring employers, principals and some voluntary organisations all within the broad category of a “person carrying on a business or undertaking”. These “PCBUs” all owe health and safety duties to their workers, and “workers” here includes contractors and some regular volunteers.

Your principal also owes this duty to any employee or subcontractor that you, the contractor, hire to carry out the work you contracted with the principal to do. But in those cases, you yourself will also have health and safety obligations as an employer or as a principal to your subcontractor.

Duties that employers owe to customers, visitors and some volunteers

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 17, 19, 36

Employers must make sure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of people other than their workers isn’t put at risk by the work of the business or organisation. They will owe this duty to:

  • customers and clients
  • visitors
  • volunteers who don’t qualify as “volunteer workers”, either because they’re more casual volunteers or because they do one of the exempted activities, like fundraising or sports coaching (see above, “Who’s protected by the health and safety laws?”).

Workplace health and safety duties owed by people other than employers

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 37-40

    Other people controlling workplaces and machinery – A business or organisation that manages or controls a workplace must make sure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace (including its entrances and exits) doesn’t pose any risks to anyone. If you work in a shop in a large retail centre, for example, this would include the owner of the retail centre and the centre’s manager. People who manufacture or design machinery and equipment, or who manage or control it, also owe a duty to make sure it’s safe.

  • Self-employed – If you’re self-employed, you must make sure you’re safe while you’re working, as far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 36(6)

    Employees – You must take reasonable care for your own health safety while at work (for more details of a worker’s obligations, see below, “What are my health and safety duties as an employee?”).

Employer’s duty to report and record serious injuries and incidents

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 23-25, 56, 57

Your employer has to notify WorkSafe New Zealand if there’s a serious injury at your work, or a dangerous incident like an explosion or gas leak. The employer must keep records of what happened.

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