Health & Safety Regulations released: What you need to know about the new control hierarchy

A raft of new regulations to support the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (Act) were released recently, covering general risk and workplace management, worker engagement, participation and representation, major hazards, asbestos, as well as infringement fees and more specific topics like mining and adventure activities.

The control hierarchy has shifted significantly from the "eliminate, isolate, minimise" framework which applies under the current law.  From 4 April 2016 when the Act comes into force, controls must be applied, in order of preference dependent on what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances, as defined below:

  1. Elimination:  This must always be the first option when trying to manage any risk.  Only if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate a risk can you then look at minimising the risk.  You must minimise the risk by taking one or more of the following actions that is most appropriate and effective when taking into account the nature of the risk:
  • Substitution:  substitute the hazard giving rise to the risk with something that gives rise to a lesser risk.  E.g. instead of using an acid based cleaning solution, use an organic product with no harmful side effects.  Practically, the result of this form of substitution is elimination of risk.
  • Isolation:  isolate the hazard, to prevent anyone coming into contact with it.  "Isolation" is any form of barrier between a person and a hazard.  E.g. many carparks now have a metal barrier for pedestrian walkways, isolating vehicle hazards and preventing risk of harm by contact between cars and shoppers.
  • Engineering controls:  these are mechanic or structural controls such as sound proofing, guards or interlocks.  E.g. where working with compressed air with a compressor in the same building as where people work, engineering controls like sound proofing could minimse the risks created by the compressor's noise.
  1. Administration controls - training and procedures:  If none of the above controls can be implemented, or can't be implemented straight away, administrative controls should apply.  E.g. retraining, supervision, and rotation of workers performing repetitive tasks, to minimise hazard associated risks.
  2. Personal protective equipment (PPE):  This last control option is PPE.  The rationale for this being a final resort is that PPE's reliability to prevent harm is dependent entirely on a person doing the right thing every single time, yet mistakes are inevitable.  E.g. in a job that discharges chemicals to the atmosphere, for example, spray painting or asbestos removal, forgetting to change a respirator (PPE) filter could be fatal.  An engineering control such as a filtered extraction system would remove reliance on PPE for safety.

In order to rely on control measures to meet obligations under the Act, a PCBU implementing any control measure must ensure that it is effective and lowers the risk rating for the hazard identified.  The control measure must be fit for purpose, suitable for the nature and duration of the work, and installed, setup and correctly used.

PCBUs must also review, and if necessary, revise, control measures, to maintain a work environment without risks to health and safety and to achieve the ultimate aim of the Act - continual improvement to health and safety

Kate Ashcroft is a Principal with Copeland Ashcroft Law, an independent legal practice providing specialist advice, representation and support across the full ambit of employment and health and safety law, to businesses throughout New Zealand.  Why us?  Put simply, as specialists in employment and health and safety law, we know our stuff!  That means we efficiently assist you with pragmatic and specific advice, to suit your needs.  We know what works, and we partner with you to achieve the results you want, so you can get on with business.  See www.copelandashcroft.co.nz for details.