Working in a High-Risk Workplace? Know Your Rights

As a worker in New Zealand, you have rights as mandated by the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) and other government regulations. However, are you truly aware of what all these rights are?

Here are just a few of the most important ones, particularly if you work in a high-risk environment:

The Right to a Healthy, Safe Environment

First and foremost, the HSWA states that every worker has a right to a healthy and safe environment. While there will always be risks in every workplace, there’s much that your employer can do to minimise these risks.

Thus, the HSWA places the primary responsibility of providing and maintaining a healthy and safe work environment to the employers. Do note that this is not limited to the place itself. The business you work for, or the entity that has control over the business, should also provide safe equipment, machinery, tools, and vehicles.

The Right to Receive Appropriate Training

Many high-risk work environments aren’t the “learn on the job” type. Rather, you should be properly trained even before or as soon as you’re onboarded. This way, you’ll be able to do your job both safely and efficiently. Beyond this, you’ll also know how you can keep others safe at work.

In short, your employer should provide workplace training. This can be easily accomplished by working with duly licensed training establishments.

The Right to Stop or Refuse to Do Dangerous Work

If you believe that the task you’ve been assigned to do is dangerous and can expose you to health or safety risks (or both), you have the right to refuse.

In case you’ve already started working, you may choose to stop at any time; make sure to inform the person in charge or PCBU so that it’s properly reported and recorded. Discussing matters with the PCBU will also help with the resolution of the issue.

The Right to Speak Up

As an employee, you’ll be spending significant hours of your life in your workplace. Thus, you have the right to voice your opinions and contribute to health and safety (H&S) decisions that will affect you and your colleagues.

You also have the right to speak up and let someone know about your H&S concerns, or even suggestions regarding policies. This is not a legal requirement; nevertheless, workers are encouraged to practise this right to help promote health and safety at work.

If you want or must talk to someone, you should approach your supervisor or your H&S representative.

The Right to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

If you work in a high-risk environment, your employer MUST provide you with personal protective equipment or PPE. Such PPE should meet quality and industry standards; they must also suit each work situation. For example, ear muffs are not necessary if there are no assessed risks that can cause harm to one’s hearing.

That said, some of the most common PPE that should be provided by your employer include:

  • Hard hats
  • Safety glasses
  • Hazmat suits
  • Work gloves
  • Safety shoes

Aside from providing PPE, the company you work for should also provide training with regards to the usage and maintenance of these items.

If you have your own set of PPE, you may use these at work;  however, you are in no way required to do so. Should you choose to use your own PPE, they must first be certified by the business as suitable for the work that you are going to do.

The Right to Insurance and Medical Reimbursements

Do note that in New Zealand, there are no mandatory insurances. However, there is the ACC or the Accident Compensation Corporation. It provides compulsory insurance cover for everyone in New Zealand who sustained personal injuries due to accidents.

Keep in mind that ACC is a no-fault scheme. Regardless of who caused the accident, part of your medical and rehabilitation costs will still be covered. However, do note as well that this no-fault scheme means that you cannot sue for compensatory damages if you suffer an injury at work (refer to the Accident Insurance Act 1998).

That said, any medical expenses you may have incurred can be reimbursed if the injuries or illness you suffered are proven to have been sustained at work.

Your Obligation: Keep Yourself Safe

Of course, in the same way that you have rights as an employee, you also have H&S obligations. The main thing is that you should, at all times, be responsible and take care of your own health and safety at work.

In addition to this, you should be mindful of your actions so that they don’t cause yourself or others any harm.

You should also be compliant with the company’s health and safety policies and procedures. Moreover, if you have received reasonable instructions, you must follow them so that you can continue working in a safe and healthy way.

In the end, everything boils down to this: both employee and employer have responsibilities with regards to health and safety. When everyone does their part, then the workplace will become healthier and safer for everyone as well.