Health & Safety - New Exemptions
After a two-month delay, the Select Committee has reported back on the Health and Safety Reform Bill with proposed changes exempting some small businesses and farmers from aspects of the new rules. The changes also clarify other provisions in the Bill to provide certainty for businesses.
- Small businesses
Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees in lower-risk industries will be exempt from electing health and safety representatives or committees if workers requested them. These representatives have the power to order work to stop if there is a safety risk.
However, companies in higher-risk industries – no matter how many employees – will not be exempt.
The select committee changes also address concerns from farmers. The new bill restricts the definition of ‘workplace’ to farm buildings and the areas immediately around them, as well as any part of the farm on which farm work was being carried out. As such, the farm house is exempt.
Coverage of volunteers will remain unchanged.
- A Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking
PCBUs must fulfil their overlapping duties to the extent they have the ability to influence and control the matter. The changes to the Bill clarify that the duty to consult, cooperate and coordinate activities sits with the PCBU, not with all duty holders.
- Sentencing guidance
Sentencing guidance in the Bill now requires courts to specifically consider death or the harm (both actual and potential) caused by an offence in their sentencing.
- Duty holder’s obligations
In the bill, a duty holder’s obligation to manage risk is now limited to doing what is within their ability to control or influence. The officer’s duties will take into account the role the officer has in the business, their position and the nature of their responsibilities.
While the Government has welcomed the Select Committee report, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for these reforms. At this stage it is unclear as to how the Labour Party’s withdrawal will impact the passage of this bill.
However, for its part, the Government has the end of the year firmly in its sight for these reforms to be enshrined in legislation.
It’s important to realise that from this time any business that puts their workers at risk by failing to provide a safe place to work will have to suffer the consequences in terms of far harsher fines and penalties. Not only whenever accidents happen, but whenever unsafe work practices are observed.
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