In the past few months the newspapers have been inundated with stories of workplace accidents where employers have been ordered to fork out tens of thousands in fines and compensation.
Canpac was ordered to pay $35,000 to an employee who had lost part of her finger in a slitter machine.
Centrelink (Australia) was ordered to pay compensation to an employee who suffered from an anxiety and depressive disorder after being told she was required to work between the hours of 8am – 4pm Monday-Friday.
The Court ordered Wealleans Groundspread Ltd to pay over $100k for failing to protect the safety of workers following the death of an employee who was operating a truck adapted to spread fertiliser.
Last year, 51 people were killed in workplace accidents in New Zealand.
Proposed changes to the law
Worksafe New Zealand was established to reduce our workplace injury and death toll by 25% by 2020. The incentive arose from the Pike River disaster, in which 29 of our men perished. The Health and Safety Reform Bill is a much-needed piece of legislation to protect the health and safety of our workers. The Bill allows for greater participation from all workers to get involved in health and safety discussions in the workplace. There will be higher legal requirements placed on managers and company directors to manage risk, and to ensure a safe working environment. At present the penalties for non-compliance range from $250k – $500k and 2 years imprisonment. The suggested penalties in the new Bill range from $300k – $3m and up to 5 years imprisonment – plenty of reasons to not be caught short of full compliance.
The Bill means that there can be no passing the buck, nor is there any room for ignorance. Directors and senior managers must be aware of the positive duties imposed on them and their obligations under the new legislation.
Similarly, employees should be aware of health and safety risks/requirements and should raise any concerns with their employer. A worker was recently fired from Top Energy for not following safety procedures. The Employment Relations Authority found that the employer was justified in terminating the employment due to the employee’s failure to follow safety procedures which resulted in a serious situation – his own electrocution. Therefore it is up to everyone in the workplace, not just employers/managers, to ensure safety comes first.
A Focus on Occupational Health
Worksafe also aims to focus on occupational health. You don’t need to be working in a dangerous physical environment for your health to suffer. Workplace hazards which need to be managed include physical, mechanical, biological, chemical and psychological. In particular, there are many psychological stresses on employees, such as:
Long working hours
Poor work-life balance
Feelings of job insecurity
High emotional demands
Learning and adapting to new technology
Directors and managers must recognise and control potential hazards. Education and a broad knowledge of the legal requirements and duties imposed on individuals will be extremely important to avoid accidents or penalties moving forward. Liability will be based on the new standard set to kick in early 2015.
For further information or advice to ensure compliance, contact BuckettLaw – the employment law experts.