Health and safety at work regulatory system

This page describes the regulatory system for health and safety at work, its objectives and our qualitative assessment of it. It also lists the main statutes and regulatory proposals either planned or in progress.

System description and objectives

System description

New Zealand’s regulatory system for health and safety at work establishes duties for persons conducting a business or undertaking (eg companies or self-employed people), officers (eg directors of a company), workers, and other persons at workplaces (eg visitors or customers), which aim to secure the health and safety of workers and others affected by work.

The system is a significant, foundational system for New Zealand’s economy and social wellbeing. It covers all businesses and organisations, all types of modern working arrangements, all work-related risks, and nearly all work in New Zealand.

The system provides for:

  • worker engagement, participation and representation in health and safety matters
  • the establishment and funding of WorkSafe New Zealand, the primary regulator
  • education, engagement and enforcement by WorkSafe and the designated regulators Maritime New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Authority
  • sector and risk-specific regulation (eg mining, adventure activities and major hazard facilities)
  • public safety for electricity and gas and amusement devices (eg fairground rides).

It complements a wide range of other regulatory systems including hazardous substances, building, petroleum and minerals, transport safety, public health, and product safety aspects of the consumer and commercial regulatory system.

It excludes approval of hazardous substances and regulation of their environmental effects.


The objective of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 is to provide for a balanced framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. A guiding principle of the Act is that workers and others should be given the highest level of protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare from work risks as is reasonably practicable.

The purpose of the Electricity and Gas Acts is to protect the public and workers and to prevent property damage from the supply and use of electricity and gas.

Government objectives for the system are set out in the Government’s Health and Safety at Work Strategy 2018-2028. The Strategy’s vision is that work is healthy and safe for everyone in New Zealand. Its goals are to focus everyone’s effort on what will make the biggest impact to reduce harm and on building capacity to do this well. Its priorities are:

  • work-related health, including mental health
  • businesses with greater need: sectors with highest harm and small businesses
  • workers with greater need: Māori and other workers at greatest risk
  • encouraging leaders at all levels to integrate health and safety
  • enabling workers to be represented, engaged and to participate
  • lifting capability of health and safety practitioners
  • developing and sharing better data and insights to improve decision making.

The next step is to implement the Strategy and turn its vision into action. Government, sectors, businesses and communities will take steps to align their health and safety-related work with the Strategy. A Stakeholder Reference Group of key system stakeholders has been established to support a long term focus and drive momentum towards the Strategy’s vision, goals and priorities.

Health and Safety at Work Strategy 2018-2028 [PDF, 6.8 MB]

Ministerial portfolios and key statutes

Portfolios Statutes
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
  • Mines Rescue Act 2013
  • WorkSafe New Zealand Act 2013
  • Electricity Act 1992
  • Gas Act 1992

Regulatory agencies and their roles

Agency Role


Advises on policy and strategy, monitors WorkSafe New Zealand

WorkSafe New Zealand

Primary regulator. Implements policy, promotes harm prevention, enforces the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

Key agencies and stakeholders

Diagram showing key roles and responsibilities and how they fit together

Collaboration and information-sharing between regulatory agencies

The Stakeholder Reference Group for the Health and Safety at Work Strategy comprises key system stakeholders, including relevant agencies. It will:

  • oversee implementation of the Strategy, and the performance of the health and safety system as a whole, and
  • provide advice to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety on potential system-level areas for focus and better strategic coordination.

WorkSafe is the primary regulator for New Zealand’s health and safety at work system.  WorkSafe’s  collaboration functions, set out in the WorkSafe New Zealand Act 2013, include:

  • promoting and co-ordinating the implementation of work health and safety initiatives by establishing partnerships or collaborating with other agencies
  • fostering a co-operative and consultative relationship with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

WorkSafe has published a Regulatory Relationships Policy(external link), which sets out the approach WorkSafe takes to formalising the terms of regulatory relationships with designated and regulatory agencies involved in the work-related health and safety system, including sharing and providing information.

Regulated parties and main stakeholders

Regulated parties include persons conducting a business or undertaking, officers, workers, and other persons at a workplace.  Everyone involved in a business or undertaking has responsibilities for health and safety at work.

For key stakeholders, see diagram above.

Processes for engagement with regulated parties and stakeholders

The Stakeholder Reference Group, which is overseeing implementation of the Health and Safety Strategy, comprises key system stakeholders.

As part of good regulatory stewardship practice in system design and implementation:

  • MBIE engages with interested regulated parties and stakeholders when identifying regulatory issues and developing regulatory proposals, and must publicly consult on all regulatory proposals on behalf of the Minister, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
  • MBIE will release exposure drafts of legislation for consultation, particularly for technical regulations or where they affect a wide range of stakeholders.
  • MBIE has regular meetings with the social partners - the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand.
  • WorkSafe has consultation requirements when developing Safe Work Instruments and Approved Codes of Practice under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
  • WorkSafe engages with a range of stakeholders to improve health and safety across the system, including engaging with relevant businesses, unions and worker representatives, sector leadership groups, iwi, specialist health and safety advisors, academic experts and other government and New Zealand and international regulatory bodies when undertaking major projects.

System’s fitness for purpose

This assessment was undertaken in 2017 and will be updated in 2019.


System has some issues against criteria

As significant reforms are still underway, it is too early to say if they are having the desired impact on work cultures and health and safety practices.

Result 9 Better for Business 2016 survey indicated the impacts of the regulatory changes were being felt by businesses as they adjust to the new requirements. WorkSafe has a well-developed work programme to promote effective implementation and stakeholder participation in implementation design.


System has some issues against criteria

WorkSafe New Zealand was established in December 2013. Worksafe’s funding was increased in 2017 to maintain its capacity to improve health and safety,  as well as funding for improved health and safety capacity for Maritime NZ and the Civil Aviation Authority, as the health and safety regulators for their respective sectors.

A comprehensive evaluation plan is in place which will guide assessment of system effectiveness.


System performing well against criteria

The system has just been reformed to reflect modern working practices and address gaps in the system. It is outcomes-based and set up well to be enduring over time. A comprehensive evaluation plan is in place to inform ongoing improvements, as will the Health and Safety at Work Strategy.

Fairness and accountability

System performing well against criteria

Information about the system is widely disseminated through a variety of channels including WorkSafe and our websites and stakeholder outreach and by key stakeholders and feedback about the quality of guidance is generally positive. Contact with key stakeholders is very regular and built into regulatory policy and design processes.

Proposed regulatory changes

The timeframes for improvements noted in this section are indicative and may change. We will review this information at least quarterly and update timeframes as required.

Matter name Policy intent Planned consultation Status
Safe Work Instruments to support the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

Lead agency:WorkSafe

Matter type: Tertiary Instruments
Implements a range of safe work instruments to support the operation of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. WorkSafe has prioritised a rolling work programme of nine potential safe work instruments and will consult on each as developed. Safe work instruments will come into force following consultation and subject to approval by the Minister. Timeframes are specific to the scale and scope of each instrument.
Health and Safety at Work regulatory reform work programme: Risks associated with plant and structures; working at heights; and youth and hazardous work

Lead agency: MBIE

Matter type: Regulations
Risks arising from plant and structures and risks for young people from hazardous work cause the most harm across most New Zealand workplaces. The Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety found that the existing regulations are hard to understand, out of date, ad hoc, and full of gaps.

Plant and structures is a wide topic area that covers:
  • work machinery, equipment and tools
  • mobile plant such as tractors, quad bikes and elevated work platforms
  • existing regimes for pressure equipment, cranes, and fairground rides
  • working at heights and excavations.
Public discussion document with a range of regulatory proposals for consultation in 2019. Preparing for public consultation.
Health and Safety at Work regulatory reform work programme: Implementation review of the Health and Safety at Work (Mining Operations and Quarrying Operations) Regulations 2016.

Lead agency: MBIE

Matter type: Regulations
A targeted, post-implementation review of the mining and quarrying regulations. The review is to test that the regulations are working as expected and to consider further regulation of quarries. It fulfils a commitment that the Government made to industry in 2013 to provide reassurance about the speed of developing major new regulations within a single year.  Consultation on the discussion document “Implementation review of the Health and Safety at Work (Mining and Quarrying Operations) Regulations 2016” closed on 28 September 2018. Submissions are being analysed. Advice will be provided to the Government, with any resulting regulatory changes expected by end 2019.
Health and Safety at Work: Risks associated with the use of refrigerant gases

Lead agency: MBIE

Matter type: Regulations
Developing proposals to reduce the likelihood of harm to persons and property from the expected increase in use of toxic and flammable refrigerant gases. This work is a priority as New Zealand transitions away from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as a result of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. HFCs are potent greenhouse gases with high global warming potential and are widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems and appliances. Consultation on the discussion document “Ensuring effective regulation of health and safety risks associated with toxic or flammable refrigerant gases” closed on 14 December 2018. Submissions are being analysed. Advice will be provided to the Government, with any resulting regulatory changes expected by end 2019.

Planned service and operational changes

Lead agency: WorkSafe New Zealand

WorkSafe’s four-year strategy sets out its focus areas for 2018-2022 and the improvements needed so New Zealand can lift its health and safety at work performance towards world-class.

Its external focus areas include:

Deliver the right mix of services in the right way. Key projects include:

  • strengthening its regulatory approach by implementing a decision-making model that helps it to apply the right mix of services and functions (from providing information, advice and guidance to monitoring and enforcing compliance), based on a good understanding of what will work best to prevent harm
  • a focus within the WorkSafe inspectorate around cultural sensitivities relating to victims and their families, particular in a Te Ao Māori context
  • continuing to review required safety cases from Major Hazard Facility operators
  • being clear in our expectations of duty-holders in specific regulatory areas, especially relating to any newer regimes and registration elements (e.g. Hazardous Substances, Asbestos, Adventure Activities).

Build our harm prevention approach. Key projects include:

  • working with ACC to fund harm prevention programmes, particularly focussed on higher-risk sectors (i.e. agriculture, forestry, construction, manufacturing) and cross-cutting focus areas and risks (e.g. work-related health (including psycho-social harm), improving outcomes for Māori and Pacific workers)
  • supporting and contributing to regulatory reforms undertaken by MBIE in the Health and Safety at Work Act and energy safety.

Grow effective strategic relationships. Key projects include:

  • working with our social partners (NZCTU and BusinessNZ) and other key stakeholders to help us understand each other’s respective roles and what levers we can collectively use to influence change
  • continued support and partnerships with sector-based leadership bodies (e.g. Forest Industry Safety Council, Construction Health & Safety NZ, Agriculture Leaders Health and Safety Action Group)
  • work with other regulators and government bodies working in the area of health and safety at work (e.g. CAA, Maritime NZ, Police, MBIE, NZTA)
  • helping develop a system-level performance framework for the Government’s new Health and Safety at Work Strategy 2018-2028.

WorkSafe is also driving its own organisational excellence by strengthening its people and culture, enhancing its technology and infrastructure, and future-proofing the organisation to support a modern regulator with the right capability, services and interventions in place.