Earlier this year, MBIE sent around the draft guidelines. It's not law yet, but it's coming. Here's one precis:
Having already released a Guideline document for Directors on managing health and safety risks [Good Governance Practices Guideline for Managing Health and Safety Risks ] the government has now released an Exposure Draft for the proposed new legislation, expected to replace the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 sometime in 2014. The Exposure Draft contains a raft of wide-ranging reforms. However, the purpose of this article is narrow; to look at the new Directors’ obligations under the proposed legislation.Is it any surprise that Solid Energy reckons that Pike River still isn't safe enough to enter?
What is changing?
The new Health and Safety at Work Act will impose an active duty on those in a governance role to proactively manage workplace health and safety. Under the present legislation, the Directors of a company can only be held liable for a breach of the Act where they have participated in, contributed to, or acquiesced in their company’s failure. The new laws will impose a due diligence role on Directors with regard to health and safety.
What happens if an Officer doesn’t meet the obligations?
An Officer of a PCBU can be convicted of a failure to meet the due diligence requirements whether or not the PCBU has also been convicted of an offence. However, if an Officer hasn’t met his or her specific duty, chances are pretty good that the PCBU itself has also fallen down somewhere along the line. Consequently, a Director of a business could be facing liability in respect of his or her Officers’ duties, as well as the business facing liability as a PCBU in relation to the same event.
There are three tiers of liability under the proposed legislation:
Reckless conduct (where a duty-holder engages in conduct that exposes any individual to a risk of death or serious injury or illness, and is reckless as to that risk): Failing to comply with duties and exposing individual to risk of death or serious illness or injury:
Failing to comply with any duty (including the due diligence requirements for Officers): Individual but not a PCBU or Officer Up to $300,000 fine and/or up to 5 years’ imprisonment Up to $150,000 fine Up to $50,000 fine Individual who is a PCBU or Officer Up to $600,000 fine and/or up to 5 years’ imprisonment Up to $300,000 fine Up to $100,000 fine Body Corporate Up to $3m fine Up to $1.5m fine Up to $500,000 fine
Kevin Hague is likely right to point to personal liability as a potential issue; I wouldn't follow him in characterising this as putting commercial interests ahead of grieving families though.
It is heroic to require corporate directors to assume heavy personal liability including up to five years' imprisonment if their due diligence on entry risk wasn't 100% up to spec, under a new incoming legal liability regime with great uncertainty about potential application.
One wonders what other risky, but efficient, actions might be deterred under the new regime.