Acronym soup: the new labels for safety


There did seem to be a measure of panic at the Information Evening organized by the NZ Advertising Producers Group recently. “Some of you are not going to like what you hear,” reckoned lawyer Robert Judge, opening proceedings.

Although the numbers who turned out on 9 February didn’t come near those who overflowed Auckland’s Mount Eden War Memorial Hall for the industry meeting about incentives a couple of years ago, there was a strong turnout to learn about the new Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) coming into force on April 4.

“Everyone who goes to work deserves to come home healthy and safe.”

Early on it became clear that there was a vagueness to many terms and expressions in the Act. This appears to be deliberate, part of the government’s aim of spreading responsibility and awareness for health and safety in the workplace around a much broader group of people and companies than previously.

We learned that a “PCBU” is a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking – whether solo or not. In the context of a screen production (most of the references focused on the advertising segment of the industry) all of the following would be defined as a PCBU: the client, the agency, the production company, the heads of department, stunt coordinators – and directors and producers.

Judge stated that specifically not included were ‘workers’ – including contractors engaged solely as workers – but, he said, the wording is vague. Best practice is to presume that you are a PCBU, and to do the requisite health and safety preparation.

As a PCBU you are not only responsible for those working directly under you, but also for anyone potentially affected by your activities, including the general public.

Here it is worth noting these two sentences from the Worksafe website:

Workers must take reasonable care to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others, and to comply with the business’s reasonable instructions and policies.
Other people who come to the workplace, such as visitors or customers, also have some health and safety duties. It’s all about taking responsibility for what you can control.

Two other phrases in the Act would seem to summarise its intentions: ‘reasonably practicable steps’ and ‘multiple duty holders’.

‘Reasonably practicable’ appears to be a softening of the terminology in the previous version of the Act, where the phrase ‘all practicable steps’ was a feature. It also seems to allow for the possibility of cost to be used as a factor in determining what is ‘reasonably practicable’. The lawyers and others present were at pains to point out that cost may only be taken into account after the risks are assessed and ways to handle and mitigate them thought through. In particular, the greater the danger, the less cost may be used as a factor.