Health and Safety

Although health and safety regulations are directed at protecting employees from hazards, they can provide some environmental protection. This is because avoiding hazards to people, and avoiding environmental damage such as by minimising the risk of oil spill, often involve the same technical steps (e.g. keeping the hydrocarbons controlled). For example, the 2014 Ministry for the Environment Guidelines for onshore petroleum development states “Well design and integrity are important matters to consider for managing risk to both health and safety and the environment. The regulation of well design and integrity to manage risk to health and safety is the responsibility of the High Hazards Unit (part of WorkSafe New Zealand) under the HSE (PEE) Regulations”. 2235

The High Hazards Unit within WorkSafe NZ (a Crown Agent with an independent Board appointed by the Minister of Labour) was established to enforce health and safety legislation in New Zealand’s mining, petroleum and geothermal sectors, recognising the inherent and significant hazards in these industries. The problem is that WorkSafe New Zealand has no legal mandate to regulate to protect the environment. Essentially there is a dependence on health and safety regulators to protect the environment but they have no power to act for this purpose and sometimes there may well be conflict between decisions made to benefit health and safety and environmental protection. 2236

The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 is the overarching legislation relevant to workplace health and safety. The object of the Act is to promote the prevention of harm to all persons at work or in a place of work. It requires employers to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work.

The Health and Safety in Employment (Petroleum Exploration and Extraction) Regulations 2013 establish requirements specific to the oil and gas industry. The regulations contain a general duty to take all practicable steps to ensure that the installation is safe for any person on or near it and that all work and other activities carried out on the installation are carried out in a manner that is safe for any person on or near the installation.  There are also specific duties pertaining to safe operations.

These regulations also require:

  • Each offshore installation to have a safety case approved by the High Hazards Unit
  • Each offshore installation and its key systems to be annually certified by an independent certification agency
  • An independent well examiner to examine every exploration or production well over its full lifecycle (i.e. from design to abandonment)

An emergency response plan for the installation must be prepared. This is a plan for responding to emergencies that occur while petroleum workers are working on an installation. The emergency response plan must identify:

  • People authorised to set emergency procedures in motion
  • Person in charge  of co-ordinating the emergency response
  • Foreseeable conditions or events that could bring about a major accident
  • Actions that could control those conditions or events or limit their consequences
  • Arrangements for limiting the risks to persons on or near the installation
  • Arrangements for training petroleum workers in the duties they will be expected to perform in an emergency


Last updated at 1:41PM on February 25, 2015