Safe as houses

Monday 4 April 2016

New workplace health and safety legislation comes into force today, but what does it mean for property investors?

By Miriam Bell

As has reported, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, applies to anyone involved in a residential property build, be it a new build or an extensive renovation.

However, there are also implications for landlords – particularly commercial landlords – and property managers.

A Worksafe NZ spokesperson said that, under the new Act, the landlord of a property is considered a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU). 

This means they have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of everybody involved with, or affected by, work on the property that the landlord organises, or is responsible for, “so far as is reasonably practicable”.

The people that could be affected include the tenants, contractors engaged by the landlord, or members of the public.

While a PCBU has a duty to ensure health and safety “so far as is reasonably practicable”, it’s about what they can reasonably do to manage health and safety, the Worksafe spokesperson said.

“If more than one PCBU is involved in the situation, the PCBUs must work together to ensure health and safety, but they are only responsible for what they can influence and control.”

As an example, she said that if a property management company engaged a plumber to do repairs on a rental property, the property manager has control over engaging that company.

“They can meet this duty by assuring themselves that they are contracting a bona fide reputable company. But, once the plumbing company is on site, the property manager will have little influence or control over their day-to-day work.

“The risks created by the plumbing company on the job are up to them to manage. But if the property manager knows about a risk on the property (eg: difficult access or a dangerous dog), it should let the plumber know.

“It also should also let the tenants know that work is being done.”

The Worksafe spokesperson said the extent of responsibility will usually be less for residential property owners – as the duties only apply when work is being carried out at or on the property.

However, Kane Tarrant, from Colliers International, said property owners, property managers and body corporate committees need to know they now have increased liability for health and safety.

“If you are a PCBU you must follow established, legally-required steps in order to protect the health and safety of those people associated with your workplace.”

Increased due diligence will fall on the shoulders of landlords, he said.

“There are obligations to identify hazards, include and maintain a hierarchy of control measures as well as the introduction of more onerous duties to provide information, supervision, training and instruction.

“Landlords will need to acquire and keep up-to-date with knowledge of the health and safety management matters for the property. Ignorance of what is happening at ‘ground level’ will be no defence.”

NZ Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King said the new legislation was vague about what it meant for landlords in practice.

“Terms like “so far as is reasonably practicable” are vague and that concerns us. We are seeking further details and clarification on what landlords will have to do and what they could be held liable for.”

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