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New Health and Safety at Work legislation – how it affects employers and officers

Health and Safety at Work Act – What’s New?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (“the Act”) comes in to force on 4 April 2016 and makes a number of significant changes to the current health and safety regime.

For businesses and those in control of businesses, this means it is now necessary to review your health and safety policy and procedures to ensure compliance with the Act when it comes into force.

A Brief Overview

The Act builds on and strengthens the theme in the current law that we are all responsible for health and safety, not just those in charge. The Act creates duties, together with corresponding penalties, on a number of people from top level management right down to those visiting workplaces.

It is also creates a number of systems that allow for workers to engage in the health and safety process and be consulted on decision making.

While the Act changes the law in a number of ways, some of the key changes to the law are discussed below.

Duty of Officers

The current Act requires employers to take all practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of a number of people. Under the new Act, people who owe a duty must ensure the health and safety of others, so far as it is reasonably practicable. This change in wording does not appear to be a major one and is unlikely to significantly alter the standard required.

What has altered is the new obligation on “Officers”. These are people who are directors, partners, or otherwise in control of a business or undertaking and there is now an obligation on those people to exercise due diligence to ensure their business is complying. This includes taking reasonable steps to:

  1. Acquire, and keep up to date, knowledge of health and safety matters;
  2. Gain a general understanding of the risks and hazards associate with the operations of the business;
  3. Ensure the business has available (and actually uses) resources to eliminate or minimises those risks;
  4. ensure appropriate processes exist for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards, and risks;
  5. Ensure the business has processes in place to comply with its obligations under the Act.

These obligations cannot be delegated and place a far more onerous role on the Officers of business to participate in health and safety.

Worker Engagement, participation, and representation

Another major change to the law introduced by the Act is the increased obligations on business to consult with workers, which requires business to give workers relevant information and an opportunity to express their reviews and contribute to decision making about health and safety.

Engagement with workers is required almost any time a business is dealing with or making decisions in relation to health and safety at work.

The Act also provides a mechanism for workers to request the election of a health and safety representative or the establishment of a health and safety committee. Business must respond to these requests and take a number of steps to facilitate this happening. If a business has fewer than twenty workers and is not in a high risk industry, then they escape these provisions of the Act. High risk industries include forestry, fishing, hunting, coal mining, building constructions, heavy and civil engineering construction, and other construction services.

Summary

The Act creates a number of new obligations and regimes that business, their officers, and their workers must adhere to. In some circumstances, the penalties for breaching these provision can be severe and personal liability of officers is the most prominent new feature of the Act.

We can help advise you on the requirements under the Act specific to your business to ensure that come 4th April, you are complying with the new regime.

Meanwhile please watch out for our Employers Symposium coming up this April which will include more information on Health and Safety requirements as well as Employment law, Intellectual Property protection, Debtor protection, and Workforce Immigration services.

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