Fearing The Health and Safety Act

I was talking with a sole trader panel beater and asked if they would take on an apprentice.  “No, I wouldn’t be able to leave them alone in the workshop because if they hurt themselves I’d be liable”.   I was surprised to hear his reaction.  Here was someone limiting the potential of his business seemingly not because he didn’t have the work for an apprentice, but because of his fears of the health and safety act.

We’ve all heard stories of business owners been fined, or worse, for lack of health and safety procedures, unsafe practices and harm to staff.  But should our business decisions be stalled because we don’t have the knowledge?  Putting policies and procedures in place for a small business can be a daunting task. This is where membership of industry bodies can be useful, they sometimes have these already for members to pick up and fine tune to their particular business needs and practices. 

Worksafe New Zealand https://worksafe.govt.nz/is another source of information where they provide guidance by industry, hazards and individuals. They have toolkits for writing health and safety documents, and templates for managing safe practices in your workplace.  You can even request assistance to resolve a health & safety matter if unable to resolve yourself.

Yes there is still work to do to put health and safety at the top of your work agenda, but I see this as a way where you can take a step back from the job and look at your practices – are they safe, are you putting yourself at risk let along any staff member, do you know what to do in case of an accident or injury, is your workplace safe for the public to come into, what hazards can you eliminate or minimise?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, risks to health and safety must be eliminated so far as is reasonably practicable. If a risk can’t be eliminated, it must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. 

‘Reasonably practicable’ means what is or was reasonably able to be done to ensure health and safety taking into account and weighing up relevant matters including:

  • the likelihood of the risk concerned occurring or workers being exposed to the hazard
  • the degree of harm that might result
  • what the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know, about:
  • the hazard or risk
  • ways of eliminating or minimising the risk
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk
  • after assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk.

Rather than fear the Act and taking the proverbial head in the sand approach at the expense of business decisions, we should embrace and plan for it.  I think the key to this is “it’s all about taking responsibility for what you can control”.


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