A new era of health and safety at sea

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 50, June 2016

Maritime operators and the people who work for them have new health and safety responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) that came into force on April 4. Responsibility for regulating health and safety requirements on ships remains with Maritime NZ.

Sharyn Forsyth, General Manager of Maritime Standards, says operators familiar with MOSS requirements or other safety systems will recognise many requirements under HSWA.

“While an operator’s current health and safety plan may not meet all the obligations under the new Act, the maritime sector has a head-start with MOSS and the international and small domestic safety systems,” she says.

The aim of the legislation is to have one system to manage workplace health and safety across the whole of New Zealand – and the overriding principles of the legislation remain the same, she says.

“The core objective under HSWA is for companies to operate safely by identifying and managing risks to ensure everyone gets home from work unharmed.”

Johnny Persico and Andy Cox.
Wellington fisherman Johnny Persico, on the San Raffaele, discusses the new health and safety requirements with maritime officer Andy Cox from Maritime NZ.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020

HSWA contains some new terms that operators will need to get familiar with – most notably PCBU – a person conducting a business or undertaking. The word ‘person’ should not be taken literally. Normally a PCBU is an organisation – e.g. a company, but the PCBU may also be a self-employed person.

One of the key points of HSWA is that whoever controls a workplace is responsible for health and safety in that workplace. In many cases, that may be shore-based management.

HSWA is part of the Government’s response to the Pike River mining disaster, and consequently it imposes a duty of due diligence on ‘officers’ – those who can exercise significant influence over the management of an operation.

Due diligence means officers must take steps to:

  • keep up-to-date with knowledge of workplace health and safety matters
  • understand the work of the PCBU and the hazards and risks associated with this work
  • ensure that the PCBU has appropriate processes and resources to minimise risks
  • ensure the PCBU has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information about incidents, hazards and risks
  • ensure the PCBU has processes for complying with HSWA, and actually applies them.

At a practical level, officers should collect information relating to health and safety to a similar level of detail that they get financial details.

The position of a ship’s master in HSWA is also likely to generate discussion in the maritime sector.

Under HSWA, masters who are owner operators will be an officer and may be a PCBU (depending on the way the business is structured). But they are considered a ‘worker’ if they are employed by, or work on contract to, a maritime operator.

“Regardless of whether or not they are a worker, the master remains responsible for the operation of the vessel when it’s at sea and must not do something, or neglect to do something, that creates a hazard for others working on board,” says Sharyn.

For a single-boat operator, without a crew, HSWA may mean little change.

The obvious difference is the requirement to liaise with other PCBUs – contractors or other businesses – working on the boat. The goal is to work together to avoid anyone on board getting harmed. In real terms, that means identifying and discussing health and safety risks, and agreeing how to manage those risks and who is responsible for what.

The new Act also requires PCBUs to involve workers. PCBUs must:

  • engage with workers on health and safety matters and
  • have effective, on-going ways for workers to participate in improving health and safety in their operation.

The requirement to engage with workers is broad. A PCBU must give workers reasonable and on-going opportunities to improve health and safety.

“Better decisions get made and the workplace is healthier and safer when workers actively engage and everyone in the workplace shares their knowledge and experience,” says Sharyn.

A PCBU must take into account the workers’ views on health and safety. Suggestions don’t have to be adopted, but the PCBU should keep communicating and explain the reasons why suggestions are not adopted.

Arrangements for engagement and participation can vary depending on the operation and the people involved. The workers do not need to be employed or engaged by the PCBU. The duty to engage extends to any worker who is directly affected by the operation – for example workers at the workplace employed or engaged by another PCBU.

The Act and the Health and Safety (Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation) Regulations 2016 set out detailed requirements for health and safety representatives, work groups, and health and safety committees.

The new Act also requires workers to be involved in planning safety procedures and systems. “After all, they are usually best placed to know the hazards they are working with,” Sharyn says.

Important terms to understand


An officer is a person who has the ability to significantly influence the management of a business or undertaking. This includes, for example, company directors and chief executives.


A PCBU is a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’. A PCBU may be an individual person or an organisation.

It does not include workers or officers of PCBUs, volunteer associations with no employees, or home occupiers that employ or engage a tradesperson to carry out residential work.


A worker is an individual who carries out work in any capacity for a PCBU.

A worker may be an employee, a contractor or sub-contractor, an employee of a contractor or sub-contractor, an employee of a labour hire company, an apprentice or a trainee, a person gaining work experience or on a work trial, or a volunteer worker. Workers can be at any level (eg managers are workers too).

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