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Communtity Law Manual | Employment: Conditions & protections | How the health and safety laws are enforced

Health and safety protections

How the health and safety laws are enforced

What can I do if I think my workplace is unsafe?

You should first raise the issue with your employer’s health and safety officer or committee, as soon as possible.

If that doesn’t resolve the problem, you can complain to Worksafe New Zealand. Their health and safety inspectors can investigate breaches of health and safety laws and enforce the laws. You don’t have to give your name when you complain.

Can I refuse to do work on health and safety grounds?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 83

You can refuse to do work if you believe it would expose you (or anyone else) to a serious risk. The risk has to come from an “immediate or imminent” exposure to a hazard.

You then have to raise the problem with your employer as soon as you can. If the problem isn’t resolved you can continue to refuse to do the work, so long as you have reasonable grounds for believing there’s a serious risk.

Note: You’ll have reasonable grounds for continuing to refuse to do the work if you’ve been told by your workplace’s health and safety representative that it would expose you or someone else to a serious risk.

If your employer fires you or disadvantages you in some other way for stopping work on health and safety grounds, you may be able to take a personal grievance against them to the Employment Relations Authority (see the chapter, “Resolving employment problems”).

About health and safety inspectors

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 163-180

Health and safety inspectors work for WorkSafe New Zealand, the government agency responsible for enforcing the health and safety laws. Inspectors have the legal right to enter any workplace to ask questions, gather information, and take samples.

Note: It’s a criminal offence to obstruct or delay health and safety inspectors when they’re doing their work.

What can an inspector do to enforce health and safety laws?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 101-107, 136-140, 141-145

Once an inspector has investigated a health and safety problem at your workplace, there are a range of options. The inspector can:

  • decide to take no further action
  • speak or write to your employer about their safety practices
  • give them a written warning
  • give the employer an improvement notice, requiring them to take some action to comply with the health and safety laws
  • give the employer a prohibition notice, requiring them to immediately stop a particular activity
  • give the employer an infringement notice requiring them to pay a fine (an “infringement fee”).

In the most serious cases WorkSafe New Zealand can bring a criminal prosecution (see below, “Criminal offences under the health and safety laws”).

Criminal offences under the health and safety laws

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 47-49

Employers can be given significant criminal penalties for breaching the health and safety laws:

  • Breaching a duty – If an employer breaches a health and safety duty but no-one is exposed to any serious risk, they can be convicted and fined up to $100,000 if they’re an individual person, and up to $500,000 if they’re a company.
  • Creating a serious risk – If an employer breaches a health and safety duty and this exposes their workers or others to a risk of death, serious injury or serious illness, they can be fined up to $300,000 if they’re an individual, and up to up to $1.5 million if they’re a company.
  • Recklessly creating a serious risk – If an employer recklessly does something that exposes their workers or others to the risk of death, serious injury or serious illness, they may face a jail term. They can be jailed for up to five years or fined up to $600,000, or both, if they’re an individual. If the employer is a company, they can be fined up to $3 million.

Can I get compensation if I’m injured because of an unsafe workplace?

Compensation for injuries caused by accidents is available under the accident compensation scheme, administered by ACC (see the chapter “Accident compensation (ACC)”).

Employers who are convicted of breaching health and safety laws can be fined, and the judge will consider whether the employer should compensate any victim of the offence for any emotional harm or consequential loss that they’ve suffered (physical harm is covered by ACC).

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