The employer’s obligation for safety in the workplace

The national statistics on safety in the workplace on farms are sobering.  Since the Pike River mining disaster, the number of deaths on farms was greater than the loss of lives at Pike River.  The farm employer’s obligations under health and safety legislation are to ensure that the workplace is safe.

Difficult employees tend to be people who shun authority and rules.  These people are not only dangerous to themselves in a farming environment but are also potentially dangerous to others.  Safety on the farm is of paramount importance.

An employer must remember that disciplinary action with respect to safety has to be treated in the employment agreement as serious misconduct.

An employer is often reluctant to take immediate steps with a recalcitrant employee for fear of breaching the disciplinary procedures required by the law.  However, it is vitally important that employers understand that they must (not “may”) act immediately and decisively where safety in the workplace is at risk.

In order to strengthen the employer’s position, the employment contract should:

  1.      Impose clear health and safety obligations of compliance on the employee.
  2.      Impose a strict policy on drugs and alcohol.
  3.      Provide a comprehensive set of codes setting out those obligations.
  4.      Allow the employer to dismiss the employee summarily where a serious breach of health and safety has occurred.

If an employer is having difficulty with a careless, unmotivated or uncommitted employee, it is important to ensure that that person complies with health and safety.  The drug and alcohol policy goes hand in hand with health and safety.

A breach of those obligations will give the employer the right to suspend and ultimately lawfully dismiss that person.  The employer has a legal duty to act decisively to ensure that the workplace is safe.

By Ian Blackman published in Coast & Country, March 2016