Sports clubs: your health and safety obligations

Health and safety | Print Article

March 2024

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 imposes legal obligations on everyone conducting business or undertakings to ensure a safe workplace. Sport or recreation organisations should be aware these obligations also apply to them regardless of whether the activity is for profit and even if they are mostly volunteers.

The Act imposes legal obligations on those conducting ‘business or undertakings’ (referred to as PCBUs) to ensure a safe workplace. Penalties up to $500,000 can be imposed on individuals or organisations for breaches.

You should review your practices to ensure the health and safety of all people affected by your activities and minimise your liability.

When does the Act apply?

Any organisation that employs anyone to do any work, even if it only has one part-time employee, will be a PCBU and will need to comply with the Act in the same way as any other New Zealand business. ’Volunteer associations’ are excluded only if they are entirely voluntary. [exclusion goes after main statement]

’Workplace’ means any place where the business or undertaking is customarily carried out. Therefore, places where the Act could apply include the sports field, surrounding stands, club rooms and hired transportation.

What are your obligations as a PCBU?

  1. You must ensure the health and safety of all your employees and voluntary workers (excluding casual volunteers), as far as is reasonably practicable. This includes providing and maintaining a safe environment, adequate training/supervision, and ongoing monitoring. All ‘workers’ are owed the same level of care, no matter if paid or voluntary. However, a casual volunteer who does not assist the club on an ongoing and regular basis is not a ‘worker’.
  2. You must also take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of others affected by your organisation’s activities, such as casual volunteers and bystanders. For example, a club-organised sporting tournament must not put at risk any of the volunteers, participants, or spectators.
  3. You must notify a regulator (usually WorkSafe) if any person suffers a serious injury or illness in relation to your organisation. This includes serious illnesses, head injuries, and lacerations. You also need to notify the regulator if a notifiable incident occurs that exposes a worker or other person to a serious health and safety risk.

Care is needed to ensure your activities comply fully with your legal obligations. Despite the best intentions, following an injury or incident it is probably possible to argue both ways whether your organisation had taken all reasonably practicable care. A written record can be helpful to demonstrate identifying the risks from your activities, documenting procedures to address them, ensuring responsibilities are clear, and recording ongoing monitoring.

If you need assistance to ensure best practice or have any questions regarding the Health and Safety at Work Act, please contact your lawyer.