If you are an employer, manager or officer of a business, you have duties to manage health and safety at work (HSW). Risk management is an ongoing and integral process for new and existing business owners. In particular, you should focus on risk management when you are changing work practices or environments and responding to workplace incidents or concerns. The duties under the health and safety laws can be challenging to interpret. However, WorkSafe New Zealand has developed a list of approved codes of practice (ACOPs) to provide practical guidance on achieving the required workplace health and safety standards. This article outlines some practical tips to ensure HSW compliance.

Identify Your Duty Holders

As an employer, you have the primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your workers. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSW Act) is the main piece of law when considering HSW compliance.

Under the employment laws, duty holders include:

  1. persons conducting a business or undertaking;
  2. officers; and
  3. workers.

You should identify your duty holders (e.g. by reviewing your organisational structure) and ensure that they understand their obligations. A person can have multiple duties, and more than one person can have the same duty simultaneously. 

You can provide a workplace induction and implement a HSW policy to inform your duty holders of their responsibilities and the potential consequences for contravening the policy.

Undertake a Risk Management Process

The following figure illustrates the risk management process.

1. Plan: Identify and Assess the Risks

You should identify what could cause harm to people, including physical and mental injury or illness. For example, hazards may arise from the:

  • physical work environment;
  • use of equipment, materials and substances; and
  • work process.

The following are examples of common hazards.

Hazard Example Potential harm
Manual tasks Tasks involving sustained or awkward postures, high or sudden force, repetitive movements or vibration. Musculoskeletal disorders, such as damage to joints, ligaments and muscles.
Gravity Falling objects, falls, slips and trips of people. Fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, concussion, permanent injuries or death.
Psychosocial Excessive time pressure, bullying, violence and work-related fatigue. Psychological or physical injury or illness.
Electricity Exposure to live electrical wires. Shock, burns, damage to organs and nerves leading to permanent injuries or death.
Machinery and equipment Being hit by moving vehicles or being caught in moving parts of machinery. Fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, permanent injuries or death.
Hazardous chemicals Acids, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, asbestos and silica. Respiratory illnesses, cancers or dermatitis.
Extreme temperatures Heat and cold. Heat can cause burns and heat stroke or injuries due to fatigueCold can cause hypothermia or frostbite.
Noise Exposure to loud noise. Permanent hearing damage.
Radiation Ultraviolet, welding arc flashes, microwaves and lasers. Burns, cancer or blindness.
Biological Micro-organisms. Hepatitis, legionnaires' disease, Q fever, HIV/AIDS or allergies.

How to Identify Risks

Furthermore, the approved code of practice also includes tips to identify risks. For example, you should:

  • inspect the workplace – you should regularly walk around and observe the workplace;
  • follow the good work design and safe design principles – you should incorporate effective risk control measures early in the design process to promote healthy and safe work tasks, systems, environment and structures;
  • consult your workers – for example, you can conduct a worker survey or ask your workers about health and safety issues they have encountered;
  • consult your supply chains and networks – for example, you should speak with your suppliers and service providers to identify hazards and risks; and
  • review available information – for example, you can seek information and advice from regulators, legal advisors, WHS advisors, unions, industry associations and technical specialists.

A risk assessment involves determining, firstly, how hazards may cause harm. Secondly, you must assess how severe the harm could be. Finally, you should assess the likelihood of the harm occurring.

This step may not be necessary if the risks are known and you have measures to control the risks. However, expert or specialist advice can be helpful if you are conducting a risk assessment of a complex situation.

2. Do: Implement Control Measures

You should implement and maintain effective measures to control risks. Notably, consider the hierarchy of control measures, namely:

  • elimination – for example, you can eliminate the risk of your worker falling from a height by instructing them to do the work at ground level;
  • substitution, isolation and engineering controls – for example, you can substitute solvent-based paints with water-based ones, isolate exposed edges and holes in floors from your workers by installing guardrails, or provide mechanical devices such as trolleys for jobs that require your workers to move heavy loads;
  • administrative controls – for example, you can develop safe work procedures, provide WHS training to your managers and workers, implement anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment policies and use signs to warn people of a hazard; and
  • personal protective equipment – for example, you can provide your workers with face masks, hard hats, protective eyewear, ear muffs and gloves.

The most effective control measure involves eliminating the risk. However, if this is not reasonably practicable, you should work through the alternatives in the hierarchy to minimise the risk.

3. Check: Monitor Performance of Control Measures

Ensure that you have appropriate means for your workers to report incidents or health and safety concerns. You will want to ensure that workers are encouraged to report appropriately and not under-report.

Ensure that workplace conditions and worker health are monitored as far as reasonably practicable. You should regularly review your control measures for effectiveness and improvements. Further, you will want to engage with your workers and any representatives when making these decisions about monitoring.

You should keep records of the risk management process, such as information about:

  • the identified hazards and assessed risks;
  • the control measures implemented;
  • consultations with officers, managers, workers and suppliers;
  • provision of training; and
  • plans for changes.

4. Act: Take Action on Lessons Learnt

You should ensure that you regularly review the effectiveness of control measures at scheduled intervals throughout the year.

In particular, be sure to:

  • review incidents or near misses;
  • talk to workers to check whether the control measures are minimising risks; and
  • use the investigations into incidents and the results of monitoring to make sure that all the control measures are being improved.

Key Takeaways

Compliance with HSW laws is crucial for any business. You should identify the duty holders in your business and ensure that they understand and comply with their obligations. Furthermore, you should also undertake and keep records of risk management processes. A risk management process involves identifying hazards, assessing risks, implementing measures to control risks and continually reviewing the control measures.