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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 removing or minimising the risk.

What duties am I owed as an independent contractor?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 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 owe 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, subcontractors, employees of labour hire companies, 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, ss 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)

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 as soon as possible if there’s a serious injury at your work, or a dangerous incident like an explosion or gas leak. They must also ensure that the site is not disturbed until an inspector arrives. The employer must keep records of what happened. If they don’t notify WorkSafe as required, they could be convicted and fined up to $10,000 if they are an individual and up to $50,000 if they are a company.

Workers must be involved in health and safety

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 58–61

All persons carrying on a business or undertaking (“PCBU”), regardless of the size, level of risk and type of work, must have:

  • policies that ensure their workers’ views on health and safety are taken into account (“engagement”), and
  • clear and effective ways for workers to suggest changes on a day-to-day basis (“participation”).

What this means in practice is that workers must be given an opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process on health and safety issues and must be informed of the outcome.

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Employment conditions and protections

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Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment


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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

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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.

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