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Lessons from Pike River

By Andrew Steele - 20 Feb 2013

If you are an employer, taking a relaxed approach to safety in the workplace could expose your business to serious consequences.  In extreme cases such as Pike River, those consequences were the tragedy of employees' deaths and the collapse of the whole business. 

By law, employers have wide duties to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of their employees while at work.  Those duties extend to taking steps to ensure that non-employees are not harmed while in a place of work.  Employees have corresponding obligations to take practicable steps to ensure their own safety and that they do not cause harm to others. The most serious penalties for breaching health and safety legislation can include a fine of up to $500,000. Over time, the Courts have steadily increased the level of fines imposed. 

While the requirement for employers to provide a safe workplace is not new, it is important to keep an up-to-date written policy regarding safety and to make sure any risks and hazards are managed appropriately. All staff should be made aware of such risks.  Obviously, in more serious situations, protecting the lives of employees and the employer's ability to trade are dependant on a rigorous health and safety practice.  Aside from being a legal obligation, the potential benefits of complying with health and safety legislation include preventing loss of production, reducing ACC levies and increasing employee morale. 

The Pike River disaster and resulting Report from the Royal Commission of Inquiry has brought workplace health and safety back to the forefront of employment obligations.  The catalogue of mismanagement and failure to address this fundamental duty to employees is a stark framework for other employers to consider their own responsibility, including potential oversights and omissions.  It makes good sense to invest time, energy and resources into keeping employees safe. 


Royal Commission Report on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment - Health and Safety information


Andrew Steele


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