I am surprised at the comments made by some Principals over recent days. I have sat on a cross sector Health and Safety Forum that was formed on 9 December 2014 and has met regularly since.
Every agency involved in any aspect of education in NZ has been represented. This group has cooperated, debated, argued and resolved issues that suddenly have reared their heads again.
The liability and ability to sue individual teachers and principals has been around since the 1992 Health and Safety in Employment Act was passed and continues through various amendments until the present day.
These fines were for failure to provide duty of care and gross negligence and where serious harm was caused, as such nothing much has changed.
(a) imprisonment for a term of not more than 2 years; or
(b) a fine of not more than $500,000; or
a fine not exceeding $250,000, who fails to comply with the requirements of……….
Every person who fails to comply with section 16(3) commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000.
So what has changed?
The Act creates three offence tiers relating to breaches of the health and safety duties. The offences and the respective maximum penalties can be summarised as follows:
Reckless Conduct (has a duty and exposes any person to whom the duty is owed to risk of death or serious injury/illness and is reckless as to that risk) – fines up to $3 million
(or $600,000 and/or up to five years’ imprisonment for individuals).
Failure to comply with a Duty (with exposure to risk of death or serious injury/illness) –
fines up to $1.5 million (or $300,000 for individuals).
Failure to comply with a Duty (no exposure to death or serious injury/illness) – fines up to $500,000
(or $100,000 for individuals).
So let me see prior to the new act fines of up to $500,000 caused no issues ($500k is approx. $808K now) but $600,000 now is a problem? That means individual houses have to be put in trust?
Who is kidding who?
The new law clarifies and tightens up lines of responsibility and that post Pike River is a good thing but in order to qualify for these fines you must have done something reasonably (extremely) bad.
Today saw the launch of a health and safety practical guide for boards of trustees and school leaders. The guide provides clear explanations, example policies, procedures and checklists. The Ministry have also separated out the individual tools and put write enabled versions under the appropriate sections on the webspace.
The dual NZSTA and Ministry resource, the guide has been peer reviewed by over 80 schools and the Health and Safety Sector Reference Group, (the forum) made up of your principal associations, PPTA, NZEI and NZSTA. NZSTA have also committed to printing and sending all schools a copy of this guide.
To ensure a positive health and safety culture, as well as compliance, at all workplaces the general expectation is that schools will review their practices in this area to ensure they are meeting the requirements. Our practical guide and factsheets will support principals and boards to meet their obligations.
As the forum have said all along, if you have sound robust current systems then you have nothing to worry about. Do ensure that you get feedback from your organisation representative at the very informative forum.