PUBLICATIONS | 22 November 2013

Health and Safety interviews – Court of Appeal confirms inspector powers

In 2012, the High Court considered the scope of health and safety inspectors’ powers. It concluded in Bull v Utumapu (2011) 9 NZELC 93,897 that the manner in which inspectors had been conducting interviews during investigations into potential breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (HSEA) was unlawful.

Section 31(1)(f) of the HSEA empowers inspectors, employed by what was the Department of Labour (now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)), to enter any place of work and require an employer (or any other person that controls the place of work) to provide statements in any form and manner that the MBIE inspector has specified.

Prior to the High Court’s decision, MBIE inspectors had conducted interviews with employers or persons controlling a place of work without first providing information such as the purpose of the interview. The High Court held that this was an infringement on the right to silence and the approach to interviews taken by inspectors was unlawful. The Court imposed certain pre-conditions on inspectors conducting interviews.

The Court of Appeal in Utumapu v Bull [2013] NZCA 175 overturned the High Court’s judgment. It held that the HSEA was unequivocal and clear in relation to an inspector’s interviewing powers and the interviewing practice conducted by the MBIE was lawful...