The controversial Health and Safety at Work Act came into force in April this year and many small businesses are still coming to grips with the changes.

The new act has a much broader reach. While the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) is considered to hold the primary duty of care, everyone’s responsibility has increased. There are other categories such as Officers, who could also be considered to be personally liable. Even the definition of a “worker” has broadened to include contractors, subcontractors, apprentices, trainees, and many more.

The aim of the new act is to encourage workplaces to create a culture where health and safety is important. However in practice, understanding complex legislative changes like this one can be difficult. Wellington cleaning and lawn mowing service Anointed Facilities Services owner, Fungayi Gwete​  has found it particularly hard, working through the details of the new health and safety legislation. “You might feel like something does not apply to you, but as a small business you need to follow up and interpret what it means for you.”

Gwete is not alone. According to a recent business monitor by MYOB more than 30 per cent of the surveyed businesses found it difficult to understand their health and safety responsibilities.

Duncan Cotterill employment lawyer Jessie Lapthorne​ recommends business owners and managers need to start thinking broadly about how their organisation’s work could risk people’s health and safety, even beyond the workplace.

There is now a greater need for small businesses to seek professional training and advice from experts like WorksafeReps to identify their industry-specific obligations. “If people do not know what they need to be doing in the health and safety space, the upshot is, they should be taking advice, “Lapthorne says.

There were 44 fatalities and 3384 instances of serious harm in New Zealand workplaces last year. MYOB New Zealand general manager James Scollay recommends employers make time to identify risks in the workplace, assess how much harm they post to staff and the public and how likely that harm is to occur. “Everyone knows we need to do more to change attitudes to health and safety so we can bring those numbers down,” Scollay said

By attending courses from health and safety training specialists like WorksafeReps, and putting some preventative measures in place, small business owners could enable their employees to become more productive, improving the performance of the business – and knowing their staff and colleagues are safe and healthy.