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New regulations will increase potential penalties

New health & safety regulations will increase potential penalties for employers

The potential for higher penalties for non-compliance as a result of upcoming changes to Health and Safety regulations means employers in the high-risk agricultural sector need to be more aware than ever of their obligations, says Melissa Vining, AGRI Consultant for human resources specialists Progressive Consulting – the HR division of Crowe Horwath.

The government will establish new Crown Agent WorkSafe New Zealand by December 2013, when it also plans to introduce to parliament a new Health and Safety at Work Act, which is expected to come into force by December 2014.

“The agricultural industry is a high risk environment,” said Mrs Vining. “All employers need a practical understanding of their obligations given the major reforms underway in the health and safety regulatory environment.”

Currently a conviction may bring a fine of up to $500,000, imprisonment for up to two years, or both. Under the proposed changes, three new offence categories will be established, with penalties ranging from $100,000 up to $600,000 and five years jail for individuals, and $500,000 to $3 million for corporates.

“To ensure compliance with the legislation, employers need to proactively address health and safety and prevent harm in the workplace,” said Mrs Vining.

Progressive Consulting recommends that employers adopt the following measures:

• Identifying and controlling all hazards by creating a Master Hazard List containing all possible hazards and their risk level, and assessing which hazards are significant. Where there are significant hazards the employer needs to take all practicable steps to eliminate, isolate and or minimise these hazards to prevent injury or damage. Often the employees are in the best position to identify hazards and come up with practical controls.
• Proper training and supervision including an induction process for all new employees. If employees do not have the required knowledge and experience they should always be supervised.
• Keep a workplace register to record all incidents, near misses and accidents in the workplace. Employers should then investigate and take all practicable steps to prevent these events from re-occurring. In the event of serious harm or accident the employer must notify the Secretary (Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment) as soon as possible and follow up with written notice within seven days. A recent case saw a New Zealand company fined $150,000 for failing to notify four serious harm injuries that occurred between 2006-2009.
• Provide reasonable opportunities for the employee to participate effectively in the on-going improvement of health and safety in their workplace. This can include being involved in hazard identification, elimination, isolation and minimisation of significant hazards, workplace monitoring, training and supervising.

“The new approach will also improve worker participation,” said Mrs Vining. “Health and safety representatives will have new powers to stop unsafe work and to issue notices requiring the appropriate person to address health and safety concerns.”

ENDS

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