Health and Safety at work

Harm arising from work, whether physical, health-related or mental harm, can have many causes. Safe workplaces come about by managing these risks.

Businesses have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their workers

Managing health and safety at work is everyone’s responsibility. People often get hurt because nobody has thought about how the work might be dangerous. Sometimes people are harmed because they have not been trained to do their job safely. People are harmed in all kinds of jobs, including office jobs. Risks and hazards (things that might cause harm) exist in all types of workplaces.

Accidents at work are very common. About 50 people are killed at work in New Zealand every year, and many more are seriously injured. However, a worker is 10 times more likely to die from a work-related disease than from an accident at work. Each year, an estimated 600-900 people die in New Zealand from work-related disease.

Health and Safety legislation

The law governing workplace safety is the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, through WorkSafe New Zealand. The HSW Act applies to everyone doing work, whether inside or outside, public or private, even underwater and underground. It also covers the crew of New Zealand aircraft in flight, or workers on New Zealand ships.

Businesses and people who control places of work all have responsibilities and obligations under the HSW Act. They must ensure their workers are safe and healthy at work by managing the risks from the work.

Workers also have responsibilities for their own safety, and the safety of others when they are at work, whether they are permanent, temporary, casual, full-time or part-time.

What risks are found in the workplace?

Different businesses will have different health and safety risks. It all depends on the type of work the business does.

Risks arise from hazards in the workplace. Hazards can be many things. A slippery floor is a hazard, as is a machine that is not properly guarded. Physical hazards are not the only risks that need to be identified and managed. Hazards to health are equally as important. This includes chemical hazards, such as solvents, and psychological hazards such as work-related stress.

Risk has two components – the likelihood that it will occur and the consequences (degree of harm) if it happens. Businesses should reduce how serious the harm is if it does occur, and/or reduce the chances of it occurring, or ideally both.

Businesses should prioritise managing their most significant risks before managing less serious risks. They should review their work activities regularly to identify any new risks that need to be managed.

Obligations on businesses

All businesses must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers, and any other workers who are influenced or directed by the business.

A business must also look after other people whose health and safety could be at risk by the work of the business, for example customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public.

Health and safety at work starts with businesses identifying and understanding the risks from their work activities, particularly those that the potential to cause people serious injury or illness. Once the risks have been assessed, businesses must decide what to do about them.

The first thing a business must decide is what is reasonably able to be done to eliminate the risks to health and safety. If eliminating the risk is not reasonably able to be done, the business must work through a series of controls to decide how to minimise or control the risk. The diagram sets out the effectiveness of each level of control.

Hierarchy of controls in managing risk

To minimise a risk or hazard, businesses should see if it is possible to substitute the hazard with something less risky, such as buying quieter equipment. It may be better to isolate hazard, which means separating it from workers. If a floor is slippery, for example, warning signs should be placed around it until it is safe again. Businesses should also think about using physical controls to manage the risk, such as using extraction fans to vent out harmful chemicals. If a risk remains, businesses should also have work processes and procedures designed to minimise the risk. Workers should also be provided with safety equipment to protect against harm.

All businesses must have worker engagement practices, regardless of their size, level of risk or the type of work they carry out. Businesses are expected to give their staff the chance to identify risks at work that could affect them, and discuss what can be done about them. This includes when:

  • hazards are identified and assessed
  • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of workers
  • making decisions about:
    • addressing risks
    • providing information and training to workers
    • monitoring worker health, exposure levels, and work conditions
    • procedures for resolving work health and safety issues

Businesses must also provide reasonable opportunities for workers to participate effectively in improving health and safety. There should be clear, effective and ongoing ways for workers to suggest improvements or raise concerns on a day-to-day basis

Worker rights and obligations

Workers have a number of rights under the HSW Act. These include the rights to:

  • work in environments where the risks to health and safety are properly controlled
  • contribute to the health and safety decisions in their workplace
  • be provided with safe machinery, vehicles, tools and equipment
  • be provided with personal protective equipment free of charge
  • stop work, or refuse to carry out work, if you believe that doing the work would expose you, or anyone else, to a serious health and safety risk.

Businesses also have an obligation to train their staff, so you can carry out your work in a healthy and safe way. Staff must understand any known hazards, and be taught how to manage them. Businesses must also ensure that staff have the skills and experience required to work safely. They must make sure staff know what to do in an emergency – how to switch off a machine or where fire extinguishers are, for instance – and should provide proper supervision of hazardous jobs.

Workers also have obligations of their own. You are expected to take reasonable care of your own health and safety at work. You must also take reasonable care to make sure you do not cause harm to anyone else in the workplace.

Workers must comply with any reasonable instructions, policies or procedures that their workplace has on how to work in a safe and healthy way. This includes using the right tools and equipment, and following safety procedures such as reporting problems and turning equipment on and off.

Follow your work's health and safety policies

Businesses are required to manage the risks in their workplaces, and workers must follow their work’s health and safety procedures that manage these risks.

You should follow any safety signs and instructions provided by your employer. Sometimes people get hurt because they don’t understand a command. Always ask if you are in doubt. Always use the right equipment for the job and report any damage.

Businesses should include policies on how to report and record any incidents, or other health and safety issues that come up. Workers should report all incidents to their immediate supervisor or manager, according to the policies of their workplace. Often, workers will need to report “near-misses” or any symptoms of illness that may have been caused by a work hazard, as well as actual incidents.

If you think your safety or health is at risk, tell your supervisor or manager, and perhaps discuss solutions with them. If you think the problem has not been solved, you can contact your health and safety at work representative, your union representative, or WorkSafe.

What if you are injured at work?

Tell your manager or supervisor immediately. He or she will arrange first aid or any other medical treatment you need. The business will then need to control the hazard so no one else is harmed. The incident should also be recorded according to your work’s health and safety policy. If your injury is serious, your employer must report it to WorkSafe.

Accident compensation

If you cannot work because of a serious injury or work related condition, you may be entitled to be paid Accident Compensation. Your doctor will tell you if you need to fill out an ACC form. If your claim is accepted you will be paid 80 per cent of your earnings until you can return to work. Your employer will pay the first week and ACC the rest. You may also be entitled to a partial refund on doctor’s visits and any physiotherapy you need. 

Interested in coming to New Zealand?

Sign up to receive relevant job opportunities from New Zealand employers and practical advice on how to make your move to New Zealand a reality.