Easy Rider leaves Bluff. A conviction over the eight deaths
from its sinking clarifies liability. Photo by Transport
Accident Investigation Commission.
Company directors are set to be held more accountable for
employee injury or death under tougher new health and safety
regulations, highlighted by Gloria Davis' recent conviction
over the eight deaths attributed to the sinking of the Easy
fishing vessel last year.
The national Institute of Directors backs the expectations
placed on directors, regardless of the company size or number
of employees, saying ultimately the ''buck stops'' with
Law firm Duncan Cotterill's health and safety specialist
lawyer, Stephanie Grieve, said the director liability issues
were highlighted by the recent conviction of Ms Davis, the
sole director of the company which owned the ill-fated
Easy Rider fishing boat, which was overloaded, swamped
and sank in Foveaux Strait last year, killing eight people.
''Under the new [health and safety] regime, we expect more
cases of directors who are not operationally involved being
found liable for health and safety breaches, in circumstances
where they have not obtained key knowledge on health and
safety performance in order to ensure it is adequate,'' Ms
Grieves said in a statement.
Ms Grieve said section 56 of the Health and Safety in
Employment Act 1992 will be superseded in the new health and
safety regime, which will impose direct obligations of due
diligence on company directors and officers.
Professional Dunedin director Stuart McLauchlan, national
president of the Institute of Directors and former Otago
institute branch chairman, says directors must get to grips
with the new health and safety requirements and that
''reporting'' of health and safety issues, and acting on them,
was ''the key'' for directors.
''Nothing has changed in terms of liability. After people
advise administration on health and safety issues they must
act; ultimately the buck stops there with directors,'' he
said when contacted in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Mr McLauchlan is chairman of Scott Technology, Pharmac, UDC
Finance and Dunedin International Airport Ltd, and also a
director on the boards of 14 other, separate companies.
When asked if the expectations of health and safety knowledge
and responsibility was the same for a company with 20
employees, or 750 employees, he said ''absolutely''.
''There has to be a company culture of reporting [all
incidents] to the board; all accidents and near misses ...
have got to be reported to the board,'' he said.
Ms Grieve said the Easy Rider case illustrated what
has been a problem, with section 56(1) of the Health and
Safety in Employment Act 1992, from the outset, in that it
has generally only applied where a director was close to core
operations, as opposed to the Pike River Coal mine case, in
which no directors were charged.
''The new due diligence provisions intend also to capture
directors in larger enterprises, who are less likely to have as
much direct knowledge and involvement in the day-to-day
business,'' Ms Grieve said.
After the 2010 deaths of 29 miners in the Pike River Coal
mine, there was widespread criticism by victims' families of
the lack of accountability by management, no less so than
when charges against mine boss Peter Whittall, under the
Health and Safety in Employment Act, were dropped last
Asked if the Pike River deaths had played a role in the
health and safety changes, Mr McLauchlan said: ''Yes, Pike
River was a catalyst.''
Ms Grieve said even though Ms Davis, who is yet to be
sentenced, had no involvement in the direct decisions made
the day Easy Rider sank, she was charged with failing
to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of
contractors; the vessel deckhands.
''That was because she had, or ought to have had, knowledge
about health and safety issues relating to the vessel,'' Ms
Mr McLauchlan said the directors' institute and the Ministry
for Business, Innovation and Employment last year ran
roadshows together around the country, specifically outlining
directors' health and safety responsibilities, and have a
template on the institute's website, on health and safety
requirements and obligations.