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Will I get in trouble over an H&S incident?

Managing health and safety (H&S) at work is about eliminating or minimising risks to workers. You should be looking at it in that order – eliminating first, then minimising.

It’s important to focus on managing risks, rather than going overboard worrying about whether an H&S incident will happen.

If you manage the risk – as far as ‘reasonably practicable’ – then you probably won’t get in trouble even if there is an H&S incident. With changes to health and safety at work coming in next year, we’ve explained what reasonably practicable means for different industries on Business.govt.nz.

So, that means:

  • If you’re aware of a risk, but do nothing about it, then you could face a penalty – whether or not someone is hurt as a result of that risk.
  • If you’re aware of a risk, and manage that risk so far as reasonably practicable and someone is still hurt or harmed, then you won’t face a penalty.

The fact that there’s been an H&S incident doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve breached your H&S duties. What is important is that you’ve done what anyone in your position and situation would sensibly be expected to do.

A key part of the upcoming H&S law changes is improving businesses’ engagement with their workers on H&S and boosting their workers’ participation in H&S.

A key part of the upcoming H&S law changes is improving businesses’ engagement with their workers on H&S and boosting their workers’ participation in H&S.

This means creating a strong H&S culture at work where people seek each other’s input into H&S issues, as well as engaging with your workers when deciding what to do about identified risks.

Will WorkSafe prosecute if there’s an incident?

Many business owners don’t believe it, but prosecution is usually the last resort – not the first step. It’s also not a decision taken lightly.

WorkSafe typically gets more than 3,000 serious harm notifications a year. It investigates about 800, and prosecutes about 100 cases.

WorkSafe considers many factors before deciding what, if any, enforcement action is appropriate. These can include:

  • the level of harm
  • the knowledge both you and your industry have about the risk
  • what options you had to manage the risk
  • what you did about the risk
  • whether it was a one-off incident or part of a series of issues.

WorkSafe’s action may include a warning, a fine, an improvement notice, a prohibition notice or prosecution.

What to do in the case of a serious incident

Notify WorkSafe. Tell them:

  • what happened

  • how it happened

  • what changes you’ve made to prevent it happening again.

WorkSafe will then tell you what the next steps are, if any.

The WorkSafe website (external link)  has updates on H&S as the new law comes into effect from April 2016.

Contacts address book

You can report a serious incident any time on 0800 030 040.

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