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Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 & family violence

July 22, 2016 at 10:09 AM

Responsibilities under Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 in relation to family violence

*From the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse*


WorkSafe NZ has provided the following advice on managing risk under the the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, in relation to family violence (18 May 2016):


"Managing Risk under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, businesses have a duty to manage work-related risks that are within their ability to influence and control, so far as it is reasonably practicable.  That does not mean that all risks must be eliminated at any cost – that is not realistic. But it does mean that risks need to be sensibly managed in proportion to the seriousness of the consequences if something goes wrong.

The duty to manage risk is similar to that in the previous Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 in that it is focused on work and the workplace.


Psychological risks

The physical and mental condition of a worker can be a health and safety risk. If, for example, a worker is clearly unfit to operate heavy machinery because of exhaustion or alcohol or drug use then an employer would want to step in.

In extreme cases the mental state of a worker suffering from stress or psychological trauma relating to matters outside of work (be that family violence, bereavement, a relationship break-up etc.) might represent a health and safety risk. If an employer* is aware that a worker poses a serious risk to the health or safety of themselves or others due to stress/trauma etc. then the business does have a duty to sensibly manage that risk as far as is reasonably practicable.


Threat of violence

Any threat of violence (both physical and verbal) in the workplace should be taken seriously. It doesn’t matter where the threat comes from – an upset customer/client, or a worker’s partner – violence is completely unacceptable in the workplace.

In the first instance, threats of violence or actual assaults will be a matter for police. Employers that are aware of a specific threat of violence would be well advised to contact the police.

That said, if a business is aware of a specific threat to the physical safety of workers or other people in their workplace then it needs to do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate or minimise that risk. What is reasonable to do, and what is within their ability to influence and control, will vary from case to case, according to individual circumstances (the nature of the threat, the nature of the worker’s job etc.).

The Health and Safety at Work Act does not set out how individual risks should be managed, and WorkSafe has no specific guidance relating to victims of family violence. However, WorkSafe does have general guidance material for employers dealing with violence at work and separate guidance for managing the risk of workplace violence to healthcare and community service providers (Please note that both these publications were written under the previous Health and Safety in Employment Act. Older guidance material such as this is being reviewed and updated).  The Ministry of Social Development also has useful advice for businesses on how to handle family violence issues."

*For the purposes of posting this item on the It's not OK campaign website, the term "employer" was used to replace the term used in the legislation - Person Conducting or undertaking a business or undertaking (PCBU).


Background information

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 is New Zealand's workplace health and safety law. It sets out the principles, duties and rights in relation to workplace health and safety. It came into effect on 4 April 2016. HSWA repeals the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. For further information, see the Worksafe New Zealand website.


Related resources

New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse Issues Paper 7, Intimate partner violence and the workplace (2014) summarises research on the impacts of intimate partner violence on the workplace, and provides local and international examples of strategies to support people who experience intimate partner violence.