Rules of Thumb When Someone Loses a Thumb

20 May 2015

There has been panic in the air with new health and safety laws looming in April next year. There is now a slight reprieve from this panic because that date has been pushed back. Rather than breathing a collective sigh of relief people should take this opportunity to ensure health and safety measures are robust to avoid being caught off guard whenever the new laws do come into effect, probably later next year.

By the time the new laws are in place I am sure everyone reading this column will be on top of their health and safety obligations (at least I hope so). But things do go wrong and then it is important to cooperate with Worksafe (the health and safety government agency) to keep people safe and avoid or reduce prosecution. The new health and safety laws specify when to contact Worksafe. By following the new procedure you’ll set yourself up for the change, while still complying with the old regime.

The basic process is after a “notifiable event” you must:


(a)                    notify Worksafe;

(b)                   keep a record of the notifiable event; and

(c)                    preserve the site.


A notifiable event is a “death”, “notifiable illness or injury” or “notifiable incident”.

Notifiable illnesses or injuries include injuries requiring hospital admission, head injuries or infections from contact with animals or animal by-products. A rule of thumb is: if you call an ambulance you should call Worksafe.

A notifiable incident is an incident that exposes people to a serious risk to health and safety from immediate exposure to things such as “an escape of gas or steam”, “implosion, explosion or fire”, or “electric shock”. Once again this is a specific list but a good rule of thumb is: if someone could have been hurt you should notify Worksafe.

You can contact Worksafe through their website or on 0800 030 040, people who don’t face a fine of up to $10,000 and $50,000 for businesses.

You have to record all notifiable events and keep those records for at least five years or face fines of up to $5,000 for individuals and $25,000 for the business.

You must preserve the site of a notifiable event. The only exceptions are to assist the injured, remove the deceased, if it is essential to make the site safe, under direction of the police or if Worksafe permit. People who don’t may be liable for a fine of up to $10,000 and the business could face a fine of $50,000.

Cooperation with Worksafe during these types of incidents is vital. Any fines or penalties you may face could be reduced to reflect your positive cooperation. There is no reason not to notify Worksafe; they are likely to find out anyway through ACC claims or employee notifications. Then you really could be in trouble if you have not notified. Worksafe won’t investigate every notifiable event and a good history of reporting and adherence to health and safety laws will only help you.

Even though the updates to health and safety laws aren’t coming in as soon as we had expected now is a great time to implement the changes so you are fully compliant in time, and avoid ever having “notifiable events”. And just in case you hadn’t realised, losing a thumb is definitely a notifiable event.

Gillian Spry


Gillian Spry is a Partner in the Employment team at Norris Ward McKinnon. Gillian can be contacted at [email protected]


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