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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Legal viewpoint — Document dilemma

WorkSafe is often asked how much documentation a business needs to meets its legal obligations. TRACEY CONLON responds.

As with many questions about health and safety, it’s not possible to take a “one size fits all” approach. Requirements around documentation are workplace, issue and sector-specific, rather than generalised. What you need to develop is generally dictated by the risk involved.

While documentation is mostly dependent on the business and its risks, there are some things that a PCBU and others can think about when deciding what H&S documentation is needed.

The HSW Act 2015 requires PCBUs to develop and maintain good health and safety practices in order to protect the health and safety of workers and others. PCBUs must be able to show they have identified the risks in their businesses, and decided how those risks will be managed. Often this will require documentation.


There are some situations where regulations set requirements about health and safety documentation in particular industries, or for particular types of work (such as work with hazardous substances). PCBUs need to know and meet those specific requirements.

A large and complex business will likely require a more structured health and safety management system, and more documentation to support that. A small PCBU whose identified risks are relatively low may need to keep only a few simple documents.

When thinking about whether a document is needed, the PCBU should ask:

  • • 
    Will this help me to implement health and safety actions effectively?
  • • 
    Will it support ongoing healthy and safe work?
  • • 
    Will it be an effective way of communicating with workers and others?
  • • 
    Does it reflect and support the way work is supposed to be done?

Just as risk management needs to be monitored and reviewed to ensure it remains up to date, H&S documentation also needs to remain current. For example, introducing new machinery or technology, or a new process, will require a risk assessment to be undertaken and appropriate controls to be implemented – so documentation may need to be reviewed and updated as well.


Good health and safety practice involves engagement with workers, including with health and safety representatives. Workers should be encouraged to share their ideas about what should be included in health and safety documents. Seek their input when you are identifying, assessing and deciding how to deal with work risks.

Workers’ suggestions can lead to better and safer ways of working, and documents that effectively communicate requirements to workers and others.


When visiting a workplace, WorkSafe inspectors will be assessing health and safety practice in the business. To do this, they will talk to representatives of a PCBU, workers, and health and safety representatives. They will also make observations about the safety of work practices.

Inspectors may ask to see documents so they can fully understand that healthy and safe procedures exist and are known through the business, and how they are implemented and maintained. Inspectors will also consider whether additional documentation is needed to effectively support health and safety leadership, worker engagement, or risk management.

If documents are available, inspectors will check that they support healthy and safe work, and that they are consistent with the practices they observe or are told about. If an inspector is carrying out an investigation, the inspector may require copies of health and safety documentation as evidence.


Avoiding prosecution should not be the reason for developing health and safety documentation. The primary obligation of a PCBU is to ensure the health and safety of workers, and that its work does not create risks to the health and safety of others.

The emphasis should always be on supporting and enabling good health and safety performance through effective leadership, worker engagement, and risk management.

Appropriate documentation will support this – but if a PCBU is not carrying out its work in a healthy and safe way, folders of documentation will not reduce the likelihood of enforcement action.


The WorkSafe website (worksafe. has helpful guidance about preparing health and safety documentation. Completing a SafePlus assessment can show how well a PCBU is performing in health and safety, and the results will help prioritise improvements that are needed.

See the WorkSafe website for more information about SafePlus.

TRACEY CONLON is chief legal advisor with WorkSafe New Zealand.

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