Health and Safety

May 15th, 2014

As many businesses in Wellington will realise, fines from the Department of Labour for breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (HSEA) have been steadily increasing over the past 10 years. This is especially true of the first four months of 2012, with hefty fines handed out to businesses who have failed to have regard to the health and safety of their employees. Buckett Law has tried to be especially proactive in this area, partaking in a pamphlet and letter mail out to over 1000 businesses in the wider Wellington region. We are well aware that the days when Kiwi businesses could give health and safety issues the old “she’ll be right” attitude are far behind us.

In 2003, Parliament sent a strong message to employers by enacting a fivefold increase in the maximum penalty for a breach of the HSEA. Since then, case law has reflected the fact that judges have taken heed of the Government’s message and acted to severely punish workplace accidents caused by the negligence of employers. In the important case of Hanham & Philp (2008), the Court set four bands of fines:

Low culpability- up to $50,000

Medium culpability- $50-100,000

High culpability- $100-175,000

Extremely high culpability- $175- $250,000

Fines can be doubled when the employer was subjectively aware that the act or omission was reasonably likely to cause serious harm.

Instances of recent fines include:

  • A $50,000 fine for Fonterra in March after a worker lost a finger at their Eltham plant

  • A $75,000 fine for Delta Utility Services in October 2011 when a lineman lost his life

  • A $237,000 fine for Kiwi Steel in May 2011 for unreported accidents and failing to ensure health and safety of employees

The point is that because the level of fines tends to diverge wildly, gambling on dodgy health and safety practices not being caught is a lot like playing the lottery. The Department has definitely taken a more proactive approach in the last 12 months, with more random inspections and a lot more fines (for instance, Kiwi Plastics copped a $45,000 fine after a random inspection last year). No one even needs to be injured for a business to be penalised, as it only takes a risk that injury could occur for the legislation to be used.

Buckett Law, as the most progressive and proactive Wellington law firm on this issue, have a lot of inexpensive and sound advice to give employers. We can re-write policy or check that what you have is up to scratch, and advise you on what you need to do to ensure that if you are the target of a random inspection or something does go wrong, you have covered your bases and won’t be subject to a hefty fine. Give us a call for a free 20 minute consultation on (04) 472 8600.

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