Health and safety for workers 

What are my health and safety rights as a worker? (employee, volunteer or contractor at the workplace)

Whether you are an employee, volunteer worker or contractor, you have the right to a safe and healthy workplace - that is:

  • a work environment in which any risks to your health and safety are identified and managed
  • access to facilities such as toilets, washing facilities and first aid
  • the availability of any training, information and support that is necessary to enable you to do your job safely
  • the right to contribute to the health and safety decisions made about your workplace
  • access to the appropriate personal protective equipment
  • the right to request a Health and Safety Representative or Health and Safety Committee (large businesses, and small businesses in high-risk industries, must appoint a representative if one has been requested)
  • the right to stop or refuse work if you believe the work is unhealthy or unsafe – your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you or otherwise “punish” you for exercising this right.

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What are my health and safety responsibilities as a worker?

As a worker you must: 

  • take reasonable care of your own health and safety and ensure that you don’t cause harm to others at your workplace.
  • comply with the health and safety instructions, policies or procedures at the workplace. This might include participating in health and safety training.

Although it’s not a formal requirement, you should tell the appropriate person or people (e.g. your health and safety representative) if you have a health and safety concern and ideas for improving the health and safety of your work environment.

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Who is responsible for ensuring that everyone meets their health and safety obligations?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, everyone in the workplace has health and safety responsibilities.

Ultimately it is the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) who has the responsibility of ensuring, as far as they reasonably can, the health and safety of the workers while they are at work.
A PCBU can be a business entity, an organisation or an individual. Examples include retailers, self-employed people, building firms and partners in a partnership

There can be more than one PCBU in a particular workplace – for example: a business, the owner of the building where the business is located, and the business contracted to do maintenance work on the building, are all PCBUs.

More about PCBUs and their health and safety obligations is on our Health and safety for businesses and organisations page.

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What should I do if I think the equipment at my work is unsafe for me to use?

You have the right to stop work if you believe using the equipment might expose you or others to a serious risk of harm.

You should report your concern to the appropriate person, for example the Health and Safety Representative or your supervisor / manager.

Your workplace should have policies and procedures in place to deal with reporting unsafe equipment or unsafe work practises.

If you have reported a concern about something unsafe or unhealthy in your workplace that could lead to serious injury or illness, and feel it is not being acted upon, you can report it in confidence by calling WorkSafe on 0800 030 040 or emailing them.

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What can I do if I’m concerned my workplace doesn’t have a clear fire evacuation procedure?
Your workplace is responsible for making sure that, as far as it reasonably can, your health and safety is not put at risk. If you are concerned that there is not a clear emergency evacuation procedure then you should raise your concern.

Your workplace must make sure there are ways for workers to give feedback and to participate in health and safety matters, including asking for a clear fire evacuation procedure.

If you’re anxious about raising a concern yourself, you could talk to your Health and Safety Representative (see below) if your workplace has one, ask a workmate to raise it for you, or contact your union (if you belong to one).

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What does a health and safety representative do?

The Health and Safety Representative’s role is to represent their fellow workers, investigate complaints from workers about health and safety issues, and make recommendations about health and safety. They have to be able to attend training related to this role (and do so in paid work time) and must be allowed to inspect the workplace in order to determine what, if any, changes are needed to make it safer.

Not every workplace will have a health and safety representative. Any workplace can choose to have a health and safety representative, but your workplace must have one if there are 20 or more workers in your workplace or you are in a high-risk industry, and a worker requests that a health and safety representative be elected.

Even if your workplace doesn’t have a health and safety representative, your workplace must still provide ways for you to be involved in health and safety matters and for you to raise any health and safety concerns.

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What should happen if someone is injured in the workplace?

If someone is injured in the workplace, it should be reported by that person or by a fellow worker to the appropriate person, for example the Health and Safety Representative, a member of the Health and Safety Committee, or the supervisor / manager at the workplace. 

The PCBU is responsible for ensuring that the injured person receives treatment as soon as possible.

If the person is seriously injured, i.e. needing immediate hospital treatment, then the PCBU is also responsible for notifying the regulator (usually WorkSafe – other regulators include the Civil Aviation Authority and Maritime NZ) about the incident as soon as possible. They must take reasonable steps to keep the site of the accident undisturbed, for when the WorkSafe inspector arrives to investigate.

The PCBU can notify WorkSafe about a workplace accident by: 

  • calling   0800 030 040
  • sending a completed from by email 

Where the injury is serious, the PCBU must also record the injury on a register of notifiable events. Records of notifiable events need to be kept for at least five years from the date that they notified the regulator.

They should also investigate how to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

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Are there any special health and safety rules that apply to young people?

No, the HSWA does not contain any provisions specifically relating to young people.

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What responsibilities does my employer have, to prevent work-related stress and workplace bullying?

As the PCBU for your workplace, your employer is responsible for identifying and managing the risk of workers being affected by work-related stress. They must also monitor the health and wellbeing of the workers and monitor the workplace conditions.

The WorkSafe website has information about dealing with, and preventing, workplace stress and workplace bullying.

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Can my employer put up an “Enter at your own risk” sign at the entrance to the workplace so they don’t have to worry about keeping the workplace safe?

People cannot contract out of their responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act. If your employer puts up a sign saying “Enter at your own risk” this doesn’t stop them from being responsible for safety in the workplace.

Signs can be useful to help people understand the risks they may face, and what they can do take reasonable care of their own health and safety, but your employer still needs to manage any hazards that may harm workers and others in the workplace.

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Does my employer have health and safety responsibilities for when I do work off-site?

Yes they do. The responsibilities relate to the work you are doing, not just where you are doing it, so even if you are working off-site your employer has the same responsibilities to look after your health and safety.

This means making sure any hazards from working off-site are identified and managed.

If you have to go to the location of another business to do your work (e.g. as a visitor or client to that workplace), then the PCBU of that business will also have responsibilities for your health and safety.

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My workplace is always over heated which makes me physically uncomfortable but doesn’t prevent me from doing my job. Does my employer have a responsibility under health and safety law to sort this out?

PCBU must ensure, as much as it reasonably can, that there is suitable and sufficient ventilation to enable workers to carry out work without risks to health and safety.

If it’s not possible for you to change the temperature of the workplace to make it more physically comfortable, you can talk to your employer or health and safety representative about it.
If the temperature in the workplace is causing people to experience heat exhaustion, fainting or worse, then you should report it to your health and safety representative, supervisor or employer and your employer is obliged to take practicable steps to prevent this from happening.