Training for health and safety

by The Findlaw Team

Training is an essential element in ensuring the health and safety of employees and others while at work. For this reason, a requirement to provide employees with training is embedded in New Zealand’s health and safety legislation.

This article looks at the legal requirements for employers to provide health and safety training in the workplace and gives examples of cases where they have been prosecuted for failing to do so.

Health and Safety in Employment Act

Section 13 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 requires employers to take all practicable steps to make sure that every employee who does any work either has the appropriate knowledge and experience, or is supervised by a person who has.

Every employee must be adequately trained in the safe use of all plant, objects, substances, and protective clothing and equipment that the employee is or may be required to use or handle.

Untrained employees, or those being trained, should be directly supervised by someone who has the knowledge and experience, and who has been adequately trained in the work to be done.

Under section 19E of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, employers must allow health and safety representatives to take at least 2 days of paid leave each year to attend approved health and safety training.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) approves suitable courses for health and safety representatives. A list of approved courses is available on its website

In practice

In practice, employers will need to identify training needs for the work, provide adequate training, and review whether the training has been effective. Supervision plays an important part in this process.

It’s recommended that employers should assign a person to take responsibility for identifying the health and safety training needs of the business. If no current employee is suitably qualified, professional assistance should be sought.

Broad training needs can be found by looking at and analysing identified hazards, accident reports, health and safety audits, observations, and assessments.

A formal training record detailing the task, the training given, who gave the training, and the date of the training, should be kept on the employee’s personnel record. This record should be kept readily available for reference, to check whether a particular employee is trained to carry out a particular job.

The training of all employees should be reviewed regularly to make sure that training is up-to-date and that all employees still have the skills and competence to do the job.

Induction training

Induction training should be given to all new employees to familiarise them with the organisation and make sure they know how to do their new job safely.

Induction training often includes employment matters, practical matters, organisational matters, and health and safety matters.

All employees should be given induction training, whether they are permanent, temporary, or casual. Even volunteers and work experience students must be shown how to do their work safely.

In terms of health and safety, induction training should be as specific as possible to the person’s role, the machinery and equipment they will be using, and the hazards that they are likely to encounter. This will most likely entail practical demonstrations and practise runs, for example on how to adjust machine guards correctly, how to use fall protection properly, and how to adjust their workstation.

Case example: Training system not satisfactory

In The Supply Chain Ltd v Department of Labour (2008), the District Court made some informative comments about the company’s system for training in the operation of dangerous machinery.

The company was prosecuted for an incident where a worker suffered a serious hand laceration when using a bandsaw.

The worker had been told by one supervisor not to use the bandsaw until he had finished reading the training module, but was instructed by another supervisor to operate the bandsaw, in the belief the worker had been trained.

The worker claimed that he went against the first supervisor’s instruction not to use the bandsaw because he had to operate it in order to work overtime.

The prosecution included a charge under section 13(b) of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (failure to ensure the employee was adequately trained in the safe use of plant).

The District Court identified that the training system was not satisfactory, making the following observations:

“No adequate procedure existed for recording the practical training given; it would surely be a simple matter for the trainer to set out in official records, available to all parties, as to the actual hours of training given and what other training was still necessary, such records to be countersigned by both student and trainer and available to anyone within the company.

“No steps at all were taken to notify other supervisors as to which employees were adequately trained and in respect of what machines.

“There was nothing to prevent any employee from using a machine if he or she were minded so to do.

“So far as I could see, there were no steps taken to ensure that employees told to read the training modules had actually done so.

“Given the fact that the availability of overtime was in part, at any rate, dependent upon the employee in question being able to operate the machinery, there was an obvious temptation for employees to put themselves forward as being so capable regardless of any lack of training.

“I am told that since this accident, the defendant company has put in place steps to prevent or minimise the risk of untrained operatives using what is admitted to be potentially dangerous machinery, in that keys are now required to operate the machines which are only issued to staff members who have completed all necessary training.”

Case example: Employer should have written training manual

In Department of Labour v Niagara Sawmilling Co Ltd (2011), an employee, who had worked for the company for 6 years, was cleaning a finger jointer machine and had removed the guard that protected the rollers. There was no interlocking device, so the rollers kept operating. The employee’s right hand and forearm became trapped between the roller and a crushing injury resulted.

The employee said that he had not been given any training at all in the machine and that he had learned how to clean the rollers by observing rather than through any instruction process. There was no documented procedure for cleaning the rollers, and there was no record of the employee having been trained in how to operate or clean the machine safety.

In deliberating on the level of the fine (which was $32,500), the Court said there was a requirement for training and procedures to ensure the machinery was safely used by operators. The machine came without a training manual or document instructions as to cleaning, so the company had a duty to write its own documentation and processes.

Case example: Training was a reasonably practicable step

In South Pacific Meats Ltd v New Zealand Meat Workers Union Inc (2012), an employee was injured while operating a shank saw which he had not been trained to use and while under minimal supervision.

In relation to training, the High Court held that it was foreseeable that the employee, as an inexperienced saw man, would succumb to the pressure to keep up.

Reasonably practicable steps included training which emphasised the importance of not stacking the meat on the saw bench, even if under pressure, because of the danger to his safety.

The Court also held that supervision of the employee was inadequate. The supervisor should have more closely monitored how the employee was coping on the shank saw in the circumstances. Had there been closer monitoring, it is likely that someone would have seen he was getting behind, did not have a table, and/or was stacking meat on the bench top contrary to instructions. Had a supervisor observed this, he or she would have been able to intervene.

The company was fined $23,000 for breaching section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and ordered to pay reparation of $5000.

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