Alert: Notifications and correspondence during COVID-19 restrictions

We are operating at reduced capacity due to the COVID 19 alert level four requirements. Find out more about how to correspond and notify us during this time.

The move to Covid-19 alert level 4 creates an unprecedented situation for us all. We know PCBUs have concerns about how to continue to meet Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) requirements at this time.

Below are answers to what we expect to be frequently asked questions about our approach and expectations.

Given the unique circumstances, we will be developing and adjusting what we do as we learn how we can best support health and safety for businesses and protect our staff. Consequently this advice may develop and change during the current crisis. 

The Government has identified WorkSafe as an essential service. However, this does not mean we simply carry on as normal. We will continue to work to ensure that businesses that remain in operation protect their workers; HSWA applies just as much now as at other times.

However, alert level four means we have to do this work differently. We’ll be:

  • prioritising support for the Government response to COVID-19
  • clearing the way, as appropriate, so essential services can continue to operate
  • providing information and support to those who need it.

We’ll also change the way we work to ensure we are not putting our people, other workers and the rest of the community at risk. 

We’ll be balanced and proportionate in our approach at all times.

If PCBUs are unsure whether or not their business is an essential service and may therefore remain open, check MBIE guidance(external link)

We will support MBIE in ensuring that businesses are aware that unless they are an essential service they must shut their premises. This means:

  • inspectors will contact businesses known to us to ensure that PCBUs are aware of the guidelines
  • we will ensure PCBUs are clear about the threat to health from transmission of infection between workers and then back into the community
  • we will check to ensure that essential services have all necessary advice available to allow them to help them to work safely and protect their workers.

We will not tolerate PCBUs using COVID-19 as an excuse to endanger workers or the public.

We acknowledge that essential services may need to manage work health and safety differently during alert level 4. Some of the usual risk mitigations we would expect to see in place may not be possible without compromising the delivery of essential services.

We aren’t able to envisage every situation PCBUs may find themselves in. The situation is constantly evolving and PCBUs will find themselves having to work differently. As a result there will be new risks and hazards to manage.

PCBUs must still eliminate or minimise work health and safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable. However, alert level 4 significantly changes the circumstances and as a result our expectations of PCBUs will change too.

We expect PCBUs to continue to look after their people, take a pragmatic approach, and act in good faith at all times. We have guidance that provides advice on how to manage the risks created by the pandemic, including how to complete risk assessments.

We won’t take enforcement action if the PCBU’s actions meet our expectations under HSWA, even if a worker or other person contracts COVID-19.

For example, a hotel (the PCBU) agrees to provide quarantine accommodation for New Zealanders returning from overseas. These are examples of actions the PCBU could take to meet our expectations under HSWA:

  • completes a risk assessment, engages with its workers to ensure all the risks are identified and assessed, and implements appropriate controls;
  • revisits the risk assessment if circumstances change;
  • consults, cooperates, and coordinates activities with other businesses which whom they share overlapping duties, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • follows our guidance and Ministry of Health advice on minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission;
  • engages with workers on any work health and safety concerns that arise.

More information about good practice on managing the risks created by COVID-19 is available on the COVID-19 website(external link).

We don’t require PPE to be used in all situations where essential work is being conducted during alert level 4. We expect the right control(s) to be used to minimise work health and safety risks in the right circumstance. 

During alert level 4 we expect PCBUs to:

  • listen to workers’ concerns about the risk to their own work health and safety created by the COVID-19 outbreak, and concerns they might have about infecting people in their bubble
  • engage with workers to identify and assess the new risks created by the outbreak, complete a risk assessment, and put appropriate controls in place. This could include personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • as a minimum, follow Ministry of Health advice for essential workers(external link) about PPE and other controls. 
  • manage the risks by implementing as many controls as possible to minimise workers’ exposure to infection
  • review and monitor the risks regularly to make sure controls remain effective.

We also suggest PCBUs allow workers to have access to the risk assessment to help them understand why the PCBU has implemented which controls.

Additional information about identifying risks and implementing controls in response to alert level 4 is available on our advice for essential businesses page

It’s important to note that there are PPE supply issues due to the COVID-19 outbreak. There is more information available on our managing PPE supply issues page, about managing this and the role PPE plays in controlling risks

If you’re working in an essential service, you may be worried about your exposure to COVID-19 as part of your work. If you’re not sure, there is guidance about what counts as an essential service(external link).

The COVID-19 situation is constantly evolving. PCBUs and their workers will find themselves having to work differently. As a result there will be new risks and hazards to manage.

PCBUs (‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’, which means employers, businesses and non-profit organisations) have to address, so far as is reasonably practicable, any risk they’ve identified because of COVID-19. This includes the risk of transferring the virus at work and any other risks that arise from implementing control measures against COVID-19.

PCBUs have duties to work together with their workers to address these risks. We expect them to do so in line with both our guidance and Ministry of Health (MoH) guidance(external link). The MoH also has advice about personal protective equipment(external link) (PPE) based on the type of work you do and about preventing infectious diseases at work(external link).

PCBUs should look after their people, take a pragmatic approach and act in good faith at all times. You should be engaged and consulted on all matters that affect your health and safety. If your PCBU is doing nothing to eliminate or minimise the risks to their workers, then they may well be in breach of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA).

In some situations, it won’t be possible for PCBUs to eliminate all the risks associated with COVID-19. Where the risks can’t be eliminated, we expect them to be minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.

If you’re feeling unsafe at work, talk to your manager in the first instance and work together to find the best way to eliminate or minimise the risk. The WorkSafe and MoH guidance above can help with this. Your manager should be able to explain why the activity is needed, why it’s part of the essential work that you do, and what the steps they have put in place can and can’t do. Remember that this is a fast-moving situation and none of us has all the answers.

If the PCBU you’re working for isn’t following the advice provided by us or MoH you should talk to your manager about your concerns. You can also:

  • talk to your health and safety rep, if you have one at your workplace
  • get in contact with your union
  • let us know by telling us about your concern through our web form

There may be a situation where you believe your only option is to stop working. Under Section 83 of HSWA, you have the right to do so in certain circumstances, but this should be a last resort, where exposure to COVID 19 is a very real and immediate or imminent risk. That might happen where insufficient steps are in place to properly manage the risk.

If you choose to take this step, it’s important to tell the person you work for as soon as possible and try to resolve the matter with them. You should also involve your health and safety representative if you have one. Your manager is entitled to direct you to do alternative work that is safe and within the scope of your employment agreement or other contract. You can also agree to do work outside of this scope.

You can find advice on Employment New Zealand's website(external link) for what to do if an essential worker has reasons not to go to work, including information on:

Being at alert level 4 means there are many people working from home. This may be a new way of working for those people, and may introduce new risks that PCBUs will need to manage.

We expect PCBUs to follow the latest advice from the Government(external link).

We acknowledge that we’re in unprecedented times and access to ideal arrangement for working from home may be restricted. We expect PCBUs to continue to look after their people, take a pragmatic approach, and act in good faith at all times.

Some essential services that are subject to specific regulations under HSWA may:

  • find it difficult to meet the regulations during alert level 4, and
  • be concerned that failure to meet the regulations would usually mean service delivery should stop.

We want essential services to continue. If PCBUs providing essential services can’t meet specific regulations as a direct result of being in alert level 4 we’ll be reasonable and proportionate in our response to ensure the delivery of essential services is maintained, along with work health and safety.

You can find out what this means for specific industries in the following questions.

Some businesses may be required to have equipment or processes audited or approved by third parties.

The overriding principle is that if the equipment or procedure has been maintained and continues to meet substantive work health and safety requirements, work doesn’t need to stop simply because a certificate cannot be issued due to the constraints imposed by alert level 4. However, PCBUs must actively check to ensure that equipment is safe and compliant. Responsible PCBUs will have been doing this anyway, but they must be additionally vigilant if the regular third party approval cannot reasonably be obtained.

We are currently developing detailed guidance about what this means in practice and will update this page over the coming days with this information.

Some equipment that falls within the Health and Safety in Employment (Pressure Equipment, Cranes and Passenger Ropeways) Regulations 1999 may have certificates of inspection due to expire during alert level four.

We expect that equipment due for certificate of inspection and not needed for delivery or support of essential services to be shut down for the duration of alert level four, if it is safe to do so. 

For equipment that’s due for a certificate of inspection and needed for delivery or support of essential services, we expect PCBUs to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment to see whether inspection is required. 

If inspection is required, we expect PCBUs to consider the following matters at a minimum:

  • can the certifier attend and are they allowed on site?
  • are maintenance personnel available and allowed on site?
  • is maintenance up-to-date?
  • are safety critical devices operational, and if so,
    • are control systems checked and verified and/or
    • are safety valves tested and operational?
  • have there been any problems with the equipment during the certification period?
  • what is the risk if the equipment fails?
  • on balance, is the equipment safe for continued operation?

We expect clear, accurate and comprehensive documentation of these considerations to be started, maintained, and available for inspection by anyone in that workplace, including an equipment inspector or certifier. This documentation should also be available for a WorkSafe inspector. 

Where PCBUs are satisfied they have done all that’s reasonably practicable to obtain certification – but are unable to do so due to alert level four circumstances – the equipment may remain in service until inspection and re-certification services are available. This is on the basis that the equipment remains safe to use. We would like PCBUs in this situation to inform WorkSafe they are doing so at technicall@worksafe.govt.nz  

Certificates of inspection must not be issued by inspection bodies if physical inspections have not taken place.  

The majority of work requiring notifications to be made to WorkSafe (eg asbestos removal) will not be an essential activity. However, where work is necessary to allow other essential services to proceed, our teams will still be available to deal with matters by phone or online via the usual contact methods. For more information visit our notify page

Compliance certificates can only be issued by WorkSafe authorised compliance certifiers and for most certificate types the compliance certifier must visit the site.

However, during alert level 4 it may be difficult for sites to obtain a compliance certificate due to the availability of compliance certifiers to visit and verify sites for compliance with the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017.

Essential services

Compliance certification is an essential service when it’s being carried out to support an essential supply chain. This doesn’t mean certifiers have to operate, it means they can operate if they choose to do so. 

We expect any compliance certifier that chooses to operate to continue to meet their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

If certifiers choose to work, they need to keep safe and think about working differently if need be. For example, they may choose to work remotely whenever possible. Certifiers may also choose not to work, such as those in an at-risk group.

Where a compliance certifier is asked to issue a location compliance certificate during alert level 4, and the certifier is not able to visit the site or organise a site visit through another certifier, the certifier may consider issuing  a conditional location certificate in accordance with the Regulations if:

  • the certifier has visited that specific site for the immediately preceding certificate and
  • there has not been any significant change at the site and
  • the certifier has records of the site (Emergency Response Plans etc.) and
  • the site has not changed ownership since the preceding certificate was issued.

If you are an essential service, you must ensure the compliance certificate is renewed. If, as a direct result of being at alert level 4, and only for that reason, you are unable to renew your certificate –and also in the case of locations, cannot obtain a conditional location certificate – you may need to hold and use the hazardous substance for a period without certification in place. Where that is the case, we expect you to:

  • comply with the regulations in all other respects and
  • in particular,
    • review your operations against the prescribed requirements for obtaining certification and
    • ensure your operations have remained compliant and
    • document that review and
    • ensure the documentation is made available on request to a compliance certifier or a WorkSafe inspector and
  • renew the compliance certificate as soon as possible after alert level 4 is lifted.

We recommend you develop a checklist to help you document your review.  If you are unable to develop a checklist, contact your compliance certifier who may be able to help you remotely.

Non-essential services

If you are not an essential service and your compliance certificate expires during alert level 4, you may need to hold the hazardous substance for a period without certification in place. Where that is the case, we expect you to:

  • ensure the site remains static i.e. there should be no use, handling or movement of the hazardous substance and
  • comply with the regulations in all other respects and
  • renew the certificate as soon as possible after alert level 4 is lifted.

If, as a direct result of being at alert level 4, you are unable to renew the compliance certificate before you start operating again, we expect you to:

  • comply with the regulations in all other respects and
  • in particular:
    • review your operations against the prescribed requirements for obtaining certification and
    • ensure your operations have remained compliant and
    • document the review and
    • if possible, obtain assistance from a compliance certifier remotely in carrying out and documenting your review and
    • ensure the documentation is made available on request to a compliance certifier or a WorkSafe inspector and
    • renew your compliance certificate as soon as possible.

In some circumstances, a compliance certificate is a pre-condition for a supplier delivering hazardous substances to a site (e.g. delivery to a stationary container system). We acknowledge that COVID-19 alert level 4 may create difficulties for PCBUs that require a compliance certificate and need to renew that certificate.

In this circumstance we are taking a similar approach to the one set out in our policy clarification on existing LPG installations

This means during COVID-19 alert level 4, we’re unlikely to prioritise enforcement action against either the installation PCBU or the PCBU supplying hazardous substances to those installations as long as Covid-19 is the only reason the installation PCBU could not obtain a certificate. If we do decide to take action, our response will reflect the risk gap.

If you are a supplying company delivering a hazardous substance to an essential service and they have an expired certificate directly as a result of Covid-19, you should ask to see the documented review that PCBU will have done if unable to obtain a compliance certificate (see Can compliance certifiers still operate during alert level 4?).

We’re aware that during COVID-19 alert level 4 it’s unlikely all hazardous substances sent via transit depots (including ports) will be able to be cleared within the statutory 72 hour period. This is most likely to involve deliveries to PCBUs that aren’t providing essential services.

During COVID-19 alert level 4, we’re unlikely to prioritise enforcement action against the transit depot holding the hazardous substance as long as Covid-19 is the only reason the substance is being held. If we do decide to take action, our response will reflect the risk gap.

Transit depot PCBUs who need to hold hazardous substances for longer than 72 hours due to circumstances directly associated with being at alert level 4 must continue to comply with all other requirements for transit depots set out in regulations, including:

  • for hazardous substances loaded on road vehicles, that the minimum separation distances are maintained between compatible and incompatible substances
  • for hazardous substances held in a transit depot but not loaded on a vehicle, that the separation distances are maintained between compatible and incompatible substances, which for ports may be as set out in the Regulations or in accordance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods code.

A person in possession of certain explosives, vertebrate toxic agents, and fumigants must hold a certified handler compliance certificate (or an equivalent certificate for some substance) and a controlled substance licence (CSL). A certificate and licence must be renewed every 5 years.

During alert level 4 it’s likely to be difficult to obtain a certified handler certificate from a compliance certifier or a WorkSafe issued CSL. This includes renewing expired certificates and licences. 

If your certified handler compliance certificate (CHCC) and CSL expires during alert level 4 – or if they have expired in the last 3 months and you are in the process of renewing them – we expect you to:

  • Ensure there is no use, handling, or movement of any explosives, vertebrate toxic agents, and fumigants you currently hold; and
  • Comply with the hazardous substances regulations in all other respects, including ensuring that all explosives, vertebrate toxic agents, and fumigants you hold are stored safely in accordance with the regulations’ storage requirements; and
  • Renew your CHCC and CSL as soon as possible after alert level 4 is lifted.

If you are required to use an explosive, vertebrate toxic agent or fumigant as part of providing an essential service and as a result of alert level 4 you cannot renew your CHCC or CSL, we expect you to:

  • Ensure that the scope of your existing CHCC and CSL includes the use of the substance; and
  • Ensure there is no other use, handling, or movement of the explosive, vertebrate toxic agent or fumigant.
  • Comply with the hazardous substances regulations in all other respects, including ensuring that all explosives, vertebrate toxic agents, and fumigants you hold are used and stored safely in accordance with the regulations’ requirements; and
  • Renew your CHCC and CSL as soon as possible after alert level 4 is lifted.

We have to make sure we keep our people safe and that our inspectors do not carry infection between workplaces. This means inspectors will not attend scenes or have face-to-face interviews with witnesses unless this has been specifically approved by one of our chief inspectors.

Instead, we will have a strong preference for using non-attendance processes to gather evidence. This means we will use as many remote techniques as possible to ensure we balance the needs of health and safety regulation against the imperatives imposed by cooperating with the national response to COVID-19.

We will also rely on the Police to gather scene information in line with our MoU regarding fatal incidents.  

We will have people available remotely to advise Police at scenes regarding the type of evidence to collect/photographs to take.

We will continue to work on investigations and other enforcement activities where this work can be done from home, online or by phone.

During alert level four our inspectors are working differently so we can keep our people safe and minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We are prioritising:

  • immediate risk of harm cases. These may be conducted face-to-face if a chief inspector decides there is no alternative way to contact the PCBU.
  • following up on notifications and concerns by email, phone, or video conference about essential services that may not be managing their COVID-19 related risks properly. 
  • proactively contacting essential service PBCUs by email, phone, or video conference to make sure they:
    • have the information they need to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission via work activities, including what – if any – PPE may be needed
    • are engaging with their workers on how to manage the risk of transmission and other related risks, such as aggression from customers
    • are putting appropriate controls in place and monitoring the impact of those controls

Like our general inspectorate team our HHEaPS team will be minimising face-to-face interventions. Instead, inspectors will focus on ensuring procedures used by operators are reviewed and adequate. For example HHEaPS inspectors will concentrate on assessing outstanding Safety Cases and contacting operators to ensure safe staffing and supervisory levels are sustained and plant maintenance processes do not slip. 

HHEaPS inspectors may also visit sites if there is some question around the acceptability of an essential service (eg a refinery or gas plant) being able to operate safely. Hazardous substance authorisations (eg for compliance certifiers) and similar services will be delivered remotely.

Notifiable events must still be reported, although our capacity to respond may be reduced. We are asking that you only call our 0800 number if someone is at serious risk of harm or has been seriously injured, become seriously ill, or died as a result of work.

There is no need to report COVID-19 cases to WorkSafe even if there is a possibility it was contracted through work. If a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19 a medical officer of health will notify WorkSafe of this, so we don’t expect PCBUs or workers to make a notification.

As COVID-19 is a public health matter and the Ministry of Health is the lead agency for responding to COVID-19, WorkSafe does not anticipate taking direct action on any notifications we do receive.

We will be working with energy supply companies to ensure they can maintain safe supplies. As more people will be spending more time at home it is important everyone remembers some important messages. If in doubt about a gas or electrical appliance or heater, or you smell gas or anything else unusual switch the appliance off and get it checked by a competent person. If you are using any gas appliance remember it needs an air supply to work safely and effectively. Don’t block up ventilators and other sources of take-up air asthis could be fatal. Again, if in doubt, check with a professional.

We believe the majority of our services can be delivered by staff working from home. However, our ability to deliver some functions may be stretched because staff with relevant experience are being asked to support vital parts of our national infrastructure.

We are proud that some key staff members have already been seconded to support the Ministry of Health emergency response and to work with the Government information service.

We also can expect calls for ex-police and nursing staff (of whom we have a considerable number) to return to work in these vital fields. Whilst this may create pressures on our ability to deliver our services, we will only release staff when they will be supporting even more critical services that support the Government’s response to COVID-19.