Health & Safety: Clarification for small businesses, farms and volunteers

Following public submissions the select committee considering the Health and Safety Reform Bill has reported back to Parliament with some important changes to the incoming law. These recommendations will become part of the Health and Safety at Work Act, which after several delays is likely to come into being in the New Year.

The important changes are:

Small Businesses

Small businesses with fewer than 20 workers in low risk sectors are not required to have a health and safety representative or committee. All other businesses will need to appoint a health and safety representative and have a committee if requested by workers. What qualifies as high risk has been signaled by government and includes industries like forestry, fishing, mining, manufacturing and road freight transport. Interestingly most farming activities such a dairying, beef and sheep are excluded from this requirement. This is controversial, so watch this space to see how farmers will be affected by this law.

Volunteer Associations

Volunteer associations that do not have employees are not covered by the Act. If a volunteer organisation has one or more employees it will come under the law and will have a duty to ensure the health and safety of its workers and others so far as reasonably practicable. However, volunteer workers who regularly work for and are integral to a volunteer organisation are to be treated just like a regular employee in that they receive proper training, instruction and supervision so they can work safety.

The important point around volunteer organisations is people volunteering for certain activities will not be volunteer workers under the new law. This allows volunteer organisations to run some activities without the hassle of training everybody who volunteers. These activities include:

  • Fundraising activities.
  • Assisting sports and recreation for an educational institute, sports or recreation club.
  • Assisting an educational institution outside the premise of the educational institution.
  • Caring for another person in a volunteer’s home.


Farmers will be happy to know there has been clarification of what parts of a farm will be classified as a ‘workplace’ and therefore subject to the Act. A workplace is now defined as a place where work is being carried out or is ‘customarily’ carried out. In the case of farms the duties of farmers will extend to and around farm buildings and structures used in the operation, and other parts of the farm only when farm work is being carried out in that part of the farm.

That means apart from the farm buildings and structures, and parts of a farm where work is actually being carried out, the Act does not apply. The family house on the farm is excluded and farmers won’t have a duty to recreational users who come onto the farm (apart from when work is being carried out in that part of the farm at the time).


One of the most significant amendments to the Act is the change in the definition of an ‘officer’. Officers will have specific health and safety duties under the Act. Previously the definition of an officer was wide and may have included not only directors and partners but also senior managers. The question being which managers would have these extra responsibilities? This has been clarified. Obviously those named in specific roles such as directors and partners will be officers, but the duties of officers will only apply to other persons who have very senior governance roles such as a chief executive.

Corporate Manslaughter

Lastly, despite much media attention around the introduction of a corporate manslaughter offence this has not been introduced, perhaps because the current penalties are deemed harsh enough.

The upshot of it all is volunteer groups, farmers and those in senior governance positions now have more clarity around their obligations. Many small businesses now don’t have to worry about appointing health and safety representatives and committees if they don’t want to.