Regardless of the type of employment, health and safety practices are a requirement in every workplace across New Zealand. Every year a number of employers are prosecuted by Worksafe for failing to keep their employees safe.

The penalties imposed by the courts often run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In one recent case, a company and the owner were ordered to pay over $540,000 after an employee was injured by some machinery.

Given the significant injuries people suffer from poor H & S practices, and the scale of penalties imposed by the courts in relation to health and safety incidents, it is vital that employers avoid making errors.

From my experience the 6 most common mistakes are:

1.    Failing to identify the risks…

The obligation is on the employer to identify anything in a workplace that may be a risk. There must be a plan to identify the risks and they must be identified.

What is known about risks in the industry is an important factor in knowing what risks to look for. Look first for the critical risks. What will cause the biggest/most serious harm, and what is most likely to occur?

Don’t ignore the risks that cause less serious harm, or are less likely to occur, but rare minor events are much less important to deal with than common major ones.

2.    Failing to eliminate or manage the risks…

Once they are identified they must be eliminated or managed. Is the risk something that can be got rid of completely? Is it still necessary to have that bit of machinery or chemical in the workplace, or are much safer alternatives available?

As examples, dangerous machines are needed and may not be able to be eliminated but must have guards to prevent access to the dangerous bits of equipment. They must also have interlock devices to stop them operating when the guard is removed.

Chemicals should have child-proof caps and be kept locked away. Locked cupboards should not be left unlocked for ease of access.

Don’t put off taking action to eliminate or manage risks just because they are not easy to see. A recent case found that requiring an employee to work regular 80 hour weeks, and ignoring her request to employ other staff to assist her take on the burden, breached the employee’s health and safety. In another case an employer was liable after an employee was killed driving home after very long hours of work.

3.    Failing to communicate risks with others…

Many businesses work together to complete larger projects, for example on a building site, but multiple workplaces must cooperate even in an office environment. What risks are there that the landlord must deal with? What about the other tenants of the building?

When working together with staff from other businesses, there must be communication between everyone involved to ensure the safety of all people present.

A notable recent example included two companies building a structure. One company was contracted to build the main structure, and the other to complete the roofing. The roofers left the worksite for the day, but did not inform the builders that the roofing materials above them had not been secured.

When the wind picked up, the sheet metal moved and fell onto the workers below causing severe injuries. Both employers were liable, as they had not communicated with each other to ensure risks were dealt with.

4.     Failing to train employees to follow systems and use equipment and personal protective gear properly…

It is no use having a system and having safety devices, and all the protective gear, if employees are not properly trained in their use. Make sure that they are trained properly in ways they can understand. Test to make sure they have understood.

5.    Failing to consistently follow procedures…

It is no use having all the processes, gear and training, if you do not check that the processes are being followed and the gear used correctly. You must check and follow up with appropriate actions to make sure everyone gets it.

Anyone who cannot get it should be dealt with. Allowing them to get away with it, because they are otherwise a good worker, will come back to bite you in the long run.

A firm, but fair, hand in ensuring everyone follows the rules will help eliminate the risk from those who think they are allowed to skip the rules when it suits them.

Health and Safety procedures must be applied appropriately, in all circumstances, and at all times. Importantly, employers and employees must not adopt a relaxed attitude over time, and begin taking shortcuts, or ignoring procedure entirely. This can lead to disastrous consequences.

In a recent example, a trucking company overloaded a truck and failed to weigh it. The truck tipped over, killing the driver.

The company was convicted, and ordered to pay a fine of $341,000 in addition to $145,000 reparation to the driver’s family.

Clearly, weighing the vehicle was a procedure that was normally followed, but the failure to do so in this case led to a tragic outcome.

6.    Failing to supervise when required…

Make sure that inexperienced staff are appropriately supervised and not given tasks beyond their ability to act safely.

In a recent example an electrical apprentice was not properly supervised, resulting in unsafe wiring and electrocution. In another example an inexperienced jockey was allowed to ride a feisty racehorse, resulting in serious paralysing injuries.

Some staff are not experienced enough to know what they don’t know, so make sure they are not left unsupervised.

The health and safety of yourself, your employees, your customers and visitors needs to be at the forefront of your considerations.

Making sure that all hazards are either eliminated or minimised can sometimes require changes to processes, or how you go about your business. Put time into identifying what you need to do, putting those actions into place and following up to make sure the plans are being followed.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-priced Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.


Alan Knowsley
Employment Lawyer
0800 733 424