The New Zealand government has confirmed its work health and safety legislation will be overhauled in response to the recommendations of the Independent Taskforce of Workplace Health and Safety. The Taskforce, formed following the Pike River mining tragedy that killed 29 people, recommended that the government significantly reform New Zealand’s work health and safety regulatory regime after identifying a number of shortcomings.

The new Health and Safety at Work Bill will be developed on Australia’s model Work Health and Safety laws and will include:

  • Introducing the concept of a PCBU as a means to allocate duties to those people who can best control work health and safety risks;
  • Adopting the primary duty of care (section 19 Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW));
  • Clarifying what amounts to a reasonably practicable step; and
  • Requiring people in governance roles to comply with a positive due diligence duty (and providing consequences if they fail to comply with their duties).

The new Health and Safety at Work Act will provide additional enforcement powers for WorkSafe, the new health and safety regulator, and for the courts. This will include:

  • Accepting enforceable undertakings from duty holders;
  • Introducing a hierarchy of offences and corresponding penalties. The maximum penalty for corporations in New Zealand will increase from $500,000 to $3 million and imprisonment of up to five years will be introduced for the most serious offences; and
  • The publishing of information about the enforcement action undertaken by WorkSafe.

The New Zealand government is still considering the Taskforce's recommendation on extending the criminal offence of manslaughter to include corporate manslaughter. Australian work health and safety regulations, codes of practice and guidance materials will also be adopted, to the extent they are relevant to arrangements and practices undertaken in New Zealand.

The Health and Safety at Work Bill will be introduced to parliament in December.