First Sentencing Outcome of Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
WorkSafe NZ put out a media release on 23rd August 2017 containing the details of the first sentencing following a prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA). This has taken a long time as WorkSafe now have 12 months to decide if they are going to lay a prosecution, rather than the six months under the old act.
The incident occurred on the 6th April 2016, two days after the new legislation was enacted. A worker had his hand caught as he fed product into a machine. He lost most of his fingers. The guarding on the machine had been identified as faulty six weeks prior and nothing had been done.
WorkSafe NZ proposed $900,000.00 as an appropriate starting point for the fine. The judge considered that a range between $400,000 and $600,000 was more fitting the level of culpability. Taking various factors into account, the judge set the final range between $210,000 and $315,000. The fine was set at around $275,000 but was reduced to $100,000 based on the organisation’s ability to pay. Prior to 4th April 2016, under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, fines for this type of incident sat between $30,000 and $40,000.
This fine is a significant increase, and shows, very clearly, the government’s intention to hold organisations to account. The headline in the WorkSafe media release is “Take Immediate Action to Manage Known Risks”. It will not be acceptable to ignore identified hazards or risks.
I was asked if it would have been better to not identify the risk. The answer to this is an emphatic no! HSWA is very clear that we must understand and manage the hazards and risks in our organisations. Failing to check for hazards or risks, or failing to acknowledge them would be against all principles of the act. We must undertake inspections and reviews to ensure that our building, plant and equipment is in good working order, that any required safety features are in place and are working, and that regular maintenance is being undertaken. We must also make sure that all standard operating procedures (SOPs) are current, and that workers are trained to use the plant and equipment correctly, and safely.
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