Health and safety reform – more delays

Thursday 28 May 2015

Authors: Rachael Brown and Tim Clarke

​​​There have been further delays to the legislation intended to reform New Zealand’s health and safety law. The Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee was due to report on the Health and Safety Reform Bill on Friday 29 May 2015; however, it has now been announced that the Select Committee will not report until 24 July 2015.

This announcement has come at the same time as speculation in the media about the level of support for the proposed reform within the Government, together with some discussion about those parts of the Bill that may be amended. In particular, the focus of media reports has been on:

  • the treatment of volunteers in the Bill. As currently drafted a volunteer association is not a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) but does come within that definition if one or more people are employed to carry out work for the volunteer association, at which point it will have the duties of a PCBU as set out in the Bill;

  • the role of Health and Safety Representatives in workplaces; and

  • the impact of the proposed reforms on small businesses and farms.

There has been no indication at this stage that the provisions of the Bill regarding due diligence duties for officers or the modified penalty regime will be amended.

Exposure draft regulations

In addition to the Bill itself, the Government has been progressing the drafting of the associated regulations. Submissions on exposure drafts of phase one regulations were due on 15 May 2015. These included regulations for general risk and workplace management, major hazard facilities, work involving asbestos and transfer of recently made Health and Safety regulations relating to mining, petroleum and adventure activities. Submissions on regulations for infringement offences and fees are due on 2 June 2015.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has advised that the exposure draft of worker participation, engagement and representation regulations will be made available after the Bill has been reported back to Parliament, and that the exposure draft of regulations for work involving hazardous substances is expected to be ready for release around November 2015.

A recap on the proposed reform

The Health and Safety Reform Bill was one component of the “Working Safer” package announced by the Government on 7 August 2013. These reforms also included the introduction of WorkSafe as a standalone Crown agency with a dedicated focus on health and safety. WorkSafe has been in operation since 16 December 2013.

The Health and Safety Reform Bill had its first reading on 13 March 2014 and has been with the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee since then. The Select Committee received a large number of submissions on the Bill and was part way through dealing with these before the House rose for the general election in September 2014. See our newsletters dated August 2013 and March 2014 for more details regarding the proposed reforms and key aspects of the legislation.

The delay comes just a few weeks after the Government announced that there would be a more targeted approach to dealing with earthquake-prone buildings, with the key changes being:

  • an amended timetable for strengthening relative to earthquake risk with the country divided into different zones depending on risk levels; and

  • prioritising education and emergency buildings requiring assessment.

In announcing these changes the Minister for Building and Housing, Hon. Nick Smith emphasised that in refining the policy the Government wanted to “retain the safety gains but get the cost down”.

Similar concerns appear to be driving the issues in relation to the Health and Safety Reform Bill. When the Bill finally emerges from the Select Committee process we will have an opportunity to see how the Government intends to achieve this balance.​


Disclaimer

This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.

For more information
  • Rachael Brown

    Partner Wellington
  • Tim Clarke

    Partner Auckland
  • Rob Towner

    Partner Auckland
Related areas of expertise
  • Health and safety
  • Employment and workplace safety