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There is new legislation being enacted in New Zealand that comes into effect in April aimed at reducing the “work” toll in New Zealand workplaces. The New Zealand workforce loses an average of one employee per week to fatal work accidents while a fairly staggering 10% are harmed.

The new legislation requires employers to do what is “reasonably practical” in managing workplace health and safety risks.

Yes, it is that old chestnut, just what is “reasonably practical”?

In basic terms, it means you are expected to do what that “reasonable person” would do.

It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to track down this “reasonable person”, put them under the spotlight and ask them a whole lot of questions.

It DOESN’T mean that you have to:

  • buy the most expensive safety equipment on the market;
  • spend most of your week doing health and safety training, documentation and compliance work;
  • do everything humanly possible to prevent any likelihood of an accident

What it does mean is that employers need to be vigilant about health and safety risks.

You SHOULD:

  • determine what kinds of risks there are to your employees considering the type of work you do and the products you produce;
  • consider the likelihood of these risks turning into actual incidents;
  • take appropriate action that is in proportion to the type, likelihood and severity of any injury or illness that may occur from each risk;
  • implement established and effective industry practices and norms designed to reduce the likelihood or impact of a risk becoming an incident;
  • actively involve your team in helping to identify and control the risks

That is what a reasonable person would do. As an example, if asbestos was discovered in the workplace a reasonable person would:

  • stop work immediately;
  • call a suitably qualified person to come in and take over

As another example, imagine putting a worker into a particularly dusty environment.

A reasonable person would understand that the dust is not a good factor. The reasonable person would also realise that it’s probably impractical to remove dust from the outdoors before these workers get going. So the reasonable person would probably utilise a water hose or tanker to keep the dust levels down.

It might also be reasonable to provide dust protection masks.

What would probably be considered unreasonable is to invest in an outside dust extraction plant.

If a team member was given the responsibility of climbing an unstable ladder it would not be considered reasonable to issue them with some sort of rubber wedge to help stabilise it considering the relatively inexpensive cost of a new ladder.

If your workplace has a heavy traffic flow a reasonable person would probably paint clear parking lines, ensure traffic was entering and exiting the property through different gates and ensure there were appropriate speed limits posted. Installing a boom gate, while certainly meeting the requirements, is probably beyond what is reasonably practicable.

The general thought is that “reasonably practicable” takes into account how much is, or should be, known about the risks as well as the published or recognised ways of either eliminating the risk or minimising it.

It is also considered reasonable to examine the cost of a safeguard against the likelihood that harm could come to an employee.

As always, this is a general guide and your particular workplace and risks need to be specifically considered before concluding that you are meeting the new requirements.

 

The information in this article is indicative of NZ tax rules and changes and not intended to be complete for all intents or purposes and does not constitute advice. It is recommended that you obtain professional advice, suited to your particular circumstances, from us before acting on anything you read.