Understanding an officer's H&S obligations.
A year a go today, we saw the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 which came into force on 4 April 2016.
Over this time, while many of us have come to terms with the concept of PCBU's, we have seen some confusion about the roles of 'officers' and the fact that they have a due diligence duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA).
To help clear this up, an officer can be:
a director of a PCBU that is a company
a partner in a PCBU that is a partnership
a person in any other entity who holds a position similar to a company director (such as a board member)
paid or voluntary.
Those in senior managerial or 'governance' roles in an organisation are also officers. These roles influence how the organisation is managed, such as a CEO.
These officers can be held personally liable for the safety of their workplace and must accept the responsibility as part of their position. As such, any officer is required to be safety literate, meaning they need be informed about safety initiatives within the workplace and must make sure the organisation has appropriate systems of work. They must also actively monitor and evaluate how health and safety is managed within the organisation.
The due diligence duty of an officer means taking reasonable steps to continuously learn about, and keep up to date with, work health and safety issues, understand the work of the organisation, to know the risks that workers, volunteers, and any other people who could be affected by the organisation’s actions may face and to check that the organisation has processes;
and appropriate resources to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety, and uses them
in place to communicate and consider information about work health and safety, and to respond to that information
in place to comply with any duties and requirements under HSWA, and uses them.
Remember; the requirement on the employer to take all practicable steps to ensure workplace health and safety is not lessened or dispelled if the injury occurred through any employee/worker’s carelessness or stupidity.
Further, it is important to note that an officer doesn’t have to be an expert in health and safety.
They may rely on information from others to meet their due diligence requirements. This includes information from senior managers, subject matter experts, line managers and supervisors. If an officer chooses to rely on others, they must show that it was reasonable to do so. They must have enough knowledge to ask the right questions, get credible information, and follow up and challenge that information if needed.
As aptly quoted by Sir Peter Jackson (Ex Director of Weta workshop) on the new Health and Safety Law, – “The age of the sleeping director is absolutely dead,” he said. “This reinforces the need for directors to be across all aspects of their role, with health and safety being a key consideration.”
Disclaimer This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.