The events surrounding the Pike River Mine disaster have led to significant changes to workplace health and safety laws. In particular, the primary duty of care now rests with Boards of Directors of businesses and agencies and attached to this duty are significant penalties for non-compliance. On Monday 4 April 2016, the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) came into effect. Details of the implications of this change can be found on the following Worksafe New Zealand site: http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe/about/
In its essence, this legislation applies to persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). It does not apply to voluntary organisations. The primary duty of care requires a PCBU to ensure health and safety ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. When used in this context, something is reasonably practicable if it is reasonably able to be done to ensure health and safety, having weighed up and considered all relevant matters, including:
• How likely are any hazards or risks to occur?
• How severe could the harm that might result from the hazard or risk be?
• What a person knows or ought to reasonably know about the risk and the ways of eliminating or minimising it (eg by removing the source of the risk or using control measures such as isolation or physical controls to minimise it).
• What measures exist to eliminate or minimise the risk (control measures)?
• How available and suitable is the control measure(s)?
One way to look at it is to use the concept of foreseeability, that is, if some event can be reasonably foreseen, then what can be done by all those who might be affected by it, to mitigate the risk. If some thing can be reasonably foreseen and nothing is done to mitigate it, then the concept of negligence arises through the failure of the duty of care.
PCBUs must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain safe systems of work (eg work processes), by developing a safe system of work is a formal procedure carried out by a person with suffcient knowledge and experience. It involves:
• the systematic examination of a task to identify risks that may arise from carrying it out;
• the identifcation of safe methods including control measures to eliminate or minimise the identifed risks;
• the setting of methods to safely carry out the task;
• The development of safe systems of work can involve looking at the physical layout of the workplace and its access and egress, tools, plant, procedures and people (eg instruction, information, training);
• For risky work, safe work methods can be formalised using a permit-to-work system. Systems of work should be reviewed on a regular basis and updated as appropriate.