As a result of the Royal Commission, the Government is proposing some significant reforms of our Health & Safety Legislation.
A new Government department is to be established called WorkSafe NZ and will be a standalone identity rather than simply an arm of the Department of Labour which it has been for generations.
The proposed legislation is to provide explicit legal responsibilities for employers regarding the need and legal obligation to consult employees affected by health and safety. One consideration not yet determined is that unions will be able to exercise a statutory right of entry for health and safety matters. This significant new legal right has yet to be properly defined.
The inquiry has recommended that penalties be raised to comparable Australian levels with a graduated penalty range. What has been suggested that penalties for an increase up to a maximum of $600k or imprisonment for five years for an individual and up to $3m for a body corporate. This is for what will be defined as reckless conduct.
For exposing to serious risk, the penalty range will be up to $300k for an individual and up to $1.5m for a corporate. There is a third category for failure to comply with health and safety duties will be a maximum fine of up to $100k, with a maximum fine of $500k for a corporation.
There is a proposal (but it is still a Private Members’ Bill) at this stage that there be a new criminal offence of corporate manslaughter. Comparable overseas jurisdiction has such a penalty. We understand this is not government policy but the Private Members’ Bill could be voted on by the House and given our current political situation could possibly pass through Parliament. In that event the organisation would be liable to a fine not exceeding $10m and any senior manager being a director or a member of that organisation that plays a significant role in the making of decisions or managing the organisation, to a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years. This new offence will be of profound significance should it become Law.
Whilst none of the above is yet law we can safely predict that the new proposed law changes will result in a very significant update of health and safety obligations and duties and responsibilities. There will be additional duties on directors and companies and a shift to proactiveness and the need for close interaction between employers and employees.