Trustee Prosecuted by WorkSafe for Failing to Ensure Worker Safety
General / 24 October 2019
Earlier this year, a trustee of a family trust that owned property was prosecuted successfully by WorkSafe for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) and the Electricity Act 1992 (EA). This case highlights that trustees need to ensure the health and safety of workers on trust property.
WorkSafe New Zealand v Dibble  NZDC 9728
Mr Dibble was the trustee of a family trust, which owned a property. He managed the property, which had two large trees growing near multiple powerlines. A power company issued notices requiring the trees be trimmed to ensure the powerlines were kept clear. The first notice set out that for safety reasons, only a trained arborist could undertake the trimming, given the trees were within four metres of the powerlines. The notice also included details of suitable arborists. A second notice was then issued and after obtaining an arborists quote, Mr Dibble went on to ask the victim (who was not a trained arborist) for help in trimming the offending branches following complaints by a neighbour.
There were several issues with the work plan, including use of a metal ladder near powerlines, no review of hazards before work commenced and no personal protective equipment. While using a powered pole saw, a branch fell onto the powerlines, completing a circuit and shocking the victim. Mr Dibble fell off the ladder suffering serious injuries. WorkSafe investigated and then prosecuted Mr Dibble, who had directed the work that day.
Under the HSWA, Mr Dibble was fined $65,000, reparations of $20,073 and prosecution costs of $21,476. He was also sentenced to 60 hours of community work for breaches of the EA.
Message for Employers
Trustees of trusts that possess or occupy land, need to ensure proper health and safety plans exist and are implemented for all work being done. Trustees are not exempt from potential prosecution.
Regular reviews of potential health and safety concerns should be undertaken, and a comprehensive health and safety management plan implemented. Trustees also need to ensure that once a plan is implemented, that it is adhered to. We have extensive experience on implementing conducting gaps analyses of existing plans – contact our team for information.
Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.