Every year 50 to 60 New Zealanders are killed in workplace incidents, hundreds die as a result of work-related ill health and thousands more are injured in work-place accidents.
The Health and Safety at Work Act, which came into effect in 2016, is intended to help improve New Zealand’s poor performance when it comes to health and safety in the workplace.
When an accident does happen, you need access to expert advice on how to handle investigations and deal with WorkSafe New Zealand and – in some cases – the courts.
We have New Zealand’s largest specialist team of health and safety lawyers. We can explain the technical and legal requirements of the law and help you move beyond compliance to a culture-led safety focus and provide training to your staff and management team. We can also help review and update your contracts to manage risk and verify that you have the right systems, policies and procedures in place to avoid workplace accidents.
If the worst does happen, we can provide crisis management, help you carry out an internal investigation and support you as you deal with WorkSafe New Zealand or their regulators. We can also help you appeal decisions by WorkSafe New Zealand and defend prosecutions.
LEGAL COMPLIANCE AND BEST PRACTICE
We can explain the technical and legal requirements of the law and make sure you understand what you need to do, and how and when you need to do it. We are often asked to advise on best practice over and above the minimum legal requirements. Our advice will help you ensure legal compliance, while developing your culture and work practices to prevent accidents from happening.
- We advised an international winemaker on its legal compliance verification, giving it comfort about its current practices and an understanding of the gaps where systemic improvements could assist in delivering better safety outcomes.
- We carried out a health and safety legal compliance audit for a large container company, reviewing its hazard and risk management, engagement with workers and PCBUs, and contractor management, providing a detailed report setting out recommendations for improvement.
- We advised a Crown agency in the energy sector on its contract templates with third parties, helping ensure health and safety risks were being appropriately allocated and managed, so the agency could be confident development works were being handled safely.
We can help you with your workplace practices, ensuring you understand and manage risk in the work you do and the other organisations you interact with.
- We advised a major port company on issues arising from the Kaikoura earthquakes, both in relation to port operations and commercial buildings occupied by major tenants. Recently we carried out a major review of the port’s management of PCBUs who use the port but are not engaged by the port company itself. We provided detailed advice as to how the port could better manage those PCBUs, to reduce risks to PCBUs and other port users affected by their activities.
- We advised a multi-national infrastructure business on its governance of health and safety, identifying its officers and helping them design due diligence plans to meet their personal obligations and verify the positive and pro-active health and safety management systems used across the business.
- We advised a major regional council on its obligations as a transport infrastructure owner relating to management of contractors, its duties in respect of Council-controlled organisations, which senior managers of a subsidiary are officers, and on achieving best practice in relation to its officers’ due diligence obligations (including the extent of management reporting necessary for that purpose).
TRAINING YOUR STAFF
We can provide training sessions to your directors, executives, middle management, health and safety representatives and/or health and safety committee members to help them understand what is required and give them the skills to help them do it.
- We rolled out a national training programme on the health and safety reforms for the Police national executive, and district and area command teams, in both towns and major cities.
- We provided seminar and workshop-based training to Cornerstone Partners, a major commercial property owner, on their obligations to contractors and in relation to earthquake-prone buildings.
- We provided training to a major NZSX listed company with international operations on asbestos issues, particularly their obligations to staff and contractors in managing asbestos risks.
- We provided extensive health and safety training to multiple layers of management within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, focussing in particular on their obligations relating to staff posted overseas.
MANAGING INCIDENTS AND INVESTIGATIONS
Investigations after workplace accidents and near-misses can be complex. You may need to provide regulators with documents, answer written questions, and be interviewed in person. We can help you during the investigation process and – where necessary – defend prosecutions.
- We advised one of the emergency services on two WorkSafe investigations, including an incident in which a firefighter received serious injuries. We guided the client through the investigation process, assisting them with their communications with staff and interviews by the regulator, and ultimately WorkSafe decided to take no further action.
- We supported a wholesale flooring business through a WorkSafe investigation following the death of one of its employees after he was crushed by several sheets of plywood that fell on top of him. This included supporting the business throughout the investigation and in all their interactions with WorkSafe. Our client successfully avoided prosecution on this matter.
- We are advising a large construction and infrastructure business on an investigation by WorkSafe under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 into a fatal road accident involving an employee of a contractor who was completing road rehabilitation work for the business. We have assisted the business in its interactions with its client and WorkSafe, including preparing its staff for interviews with WorkSafe.
- We have supported a large wood manufacturing company through a WorkSafe investigation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 after an accident at one of its plants where a machine fitter was struck by moving parts of a lay-up machine while he was undertaking repair works. We have assisted the business in its interactions with WorkSafe and the relevant union to which the plant employees are members.
DEFENDING PROSECUTIONS AND DEALING WITH CORONER’S INQUESTS
If the worst happens, and you face a prosecution by the regulator, we will advise you on your prospects of a successful defence, and represent you in court. We regularly appear in court on prosecutions, both defending charges and making sentencing submissions, and in Coroner’s Inquests.
We advised a construction company on two investigations by WorkSafe New Zealand, both of which resulted in prosecutions. We represented the client in the sentencing for the first matter, and in a lengthy defended hearing relating to the second (including successfully resisting an application by the regulator to introduce evidence of a prior conviction for a similar offence).
We represented Hastings District Council in a WorkSafe prosecution and sentencing following the death of a young child in a tractor-mowing incident. We negotiated with WorkSafe as to the Council’s culpability level, and provided the Council with advice on managing media issues.
We advised on health and safety and regulatory issues arising out of the 2010 Pike River mine explosions that killed 29 men. This high-profile work included managing McConnell Dowell’s interactions with the Police, Department of Labour, Coroner, and Royal Commission of Inquiry. Ultimately, and unlike others, McConnell Dowell was not prosecuted or criticised in relation to the Pike River mine explosions.
We advised on an investigation by WorkSafe and prosecution for offences under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, after a workplace fatality where a truck ran over a motorcyclist. This case was important as WorkSafe sought reparations for the family of the victim including future economic loss of wages and relocation costs. Legal liability for future economic loss in health and safety cases is currently very uncertain and this was the first principled consideration of it by the Court.