Health and safety law explained

Manawatu business owners gathered by the hundreds in Palmerston North to hear what the health and safety reform bill will mean for them.

Some took notes, others listened intently as health and safety expert Penny Swarbrick explained the "biggest health and safety reform in 20 years".

More than 500 small and large business owners and operators attended the event at the Awapuni Racecourse yesterday, organised by Palmerston North health and safety company PeopleSafe.

The event was labelled as a "good first step" but many said they felt there was still some confusion around the changes.

"It's a good start but we've still got work to do to make sure we're 100 per cent happy with those changes," Horowhenua District Council senior manager for people and capability Meredith Blacker said.

Sue Sinclair, of Learn a Lot Kindy Kidz, said she was pleased to hear that under the legislation everyone in a workplace would be held accountable for health and safety.

"If everyone's accountable, usually the job gets done."

The areas in the legislation that were discussed include the definition and responsibility of the duty holder and the officer.

The term duty holder, which replaces "employer" or "primary" in the new legislation, refers to anyone with a duty under the act and who will be responsible for ensuring the health and safety in the workplace.

The duty holder term can refer to workers, managers, directors and others.

"This legislation is going to catch everyone . . . everyone is going to have obligations," Swarbrick said.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) becomes the primary duty holder, Swarbrick said.

"Where there are multiple duty holders, such as a construction site, all of those duty holders must co-operate in the common goal of ensuring health and safety in that workplace.

"If you don't consult with your mates, you're going to be in a bit of strife."

In relation to PCBU, an officer is any person who makes a decision that affects the whole, Swarbrick said. The smaller the business the more likely you are going to be an officer.

Blacker said within local government there were questions around whether or not elected members would be considered officers.

"For us as local government we need to make sure we're leading by example, and we know how to respond to the health and safety reform changes."

Palmerston North Personnel permanent solutions consultant Linda Lindeman said she would like to see some parts of the legislation finalised and confirmed before she could feel confident in her understanding of the changes.

She said she was most surprised by the concept of PCBU and the action that the individual entity needed to take.

PeopleSafe founder Zane Yates said it was impossible to cover everything in the legislation in one hour.

He said the responsibility ultimately fell on the business owner to research and understand the legislation.

"If you want to make sure that your business has a significantly lowered risk of prosecution, then you would make sure you are dealing with each of these issues, making sure you've got policies and processes."

During the next six months PeopleSafe will be holding workshops to get people up to speed on the changes.

Manawatu Standard