At Smart Safety Solutions, we’re here to help you understand the way workplace health and safety can work best for you. We know that addressing essential rules and regulations can feel intimidating or too time-consuming for some business owners. 

It may even be that thinking about compliance feels like too much work; however, addressing your health and safety practices is crucial to protecting your staff, productivity, and brand. 

One of our goals at Smart Safety Solutions is to help you put your best foot forward when it comes time for a safety compliance audit in NZ. To that end, we’re reviewing a few key steps your business could take in preparation for potential audits. 

Read on to learn a bit about three core safety standards important in New Zealand workplaces and explore a framework of preparatory steps we recommend so that if an audit comes up, you will feel ready.

Understanding Safety Audit Standards

WorkSafe, the governing Health and Safety body in New Zealand, is able to conduct a safety audit at any time as long as they have reasonable cause to do so. That said, WSNZ will usually only send in an inspector if you have a critical incident that needs assessment.

In certain situations, WorkSafe will undertake targeted site visits. These are not audits but regular visits to help organisations that fall into specific industries reduce worker injury or fatality statistics. For example, industries like construction, heavy manufacturing, or organisations producing a lot of dust as a byproduct of their processes are all currently on WorkSafe’s radar.

In all other cases, WSNZ generally expects organisations to self-regulate, ensuring the safety of their workers through internal processes. Depending on the size and scope of your business, regular safety audits may be something you want to consider to keep your processes in tip-top shape.

Compliance audits in NZ – or reviews – are designed to ensure your organisation remains compliant with standards and to identify ongoing issues that should be addressed to optimise safety. There are several types of audits or reviews to choose from:

  • Informal or impromptu reviews. These are reviews of tasks being undertaken, which are useful for workers, supervisors, and frontline managers as an engagement or training tool.
  • Incident investigations. While not strictly an audit or review, incident investigations may contain a minor audit or review process to help determine the incident’s underlying or root cause(s).
  • Internal audits. Generally undertaken by internal personnel like your safety team, these reviews identify gaps in your systems and implement plans to address them. 
  • External or third-party audits. There are a few different reasons you might need an external audit:
    • Preparation for a compliance audit like ISO45001 or similar. 
    • Key stakeholders are requesting an audit as part of ongoing due diligence.

In preparation for an audit, ensuring your company is up to standard is vital. Three core safety standards are in play across the New Zealand labour landscape. Understanding how they interact might feel tricky, but compliance becomes simple with the right experts guiding you.

First, let’s review these three core standards to help you understand them better.

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

The Health and Safety at Work Act of 2015 (HSWA) represents the results of New Zealand’s most extensive health and safety review. The previous Health and Safety and Employment Act 1995 didn’t fully encapsulate New Zealand’s evolving labour landscape, leaving gaps in safety regulations that left employees and businesses vulnerable to injury.

Following the Pike River tragedy and the ensuing Royal Commission of Enquiry, the new Act was released in April 2016. The HSWA lays out the minimum standards of legal compliance for workplace safety in New Zealand. One of its core tenets is that ‘workers and others are given the highest level of protection from workplace health and safety risks, so far as is reasonably practicable’.

WorkSafe is a governmental body put in place to oversee compliance with the HSWA in New Zealand workplaces and was a direct response to the Royal Commission of Enquiry. Part of its role is conducting regular compliance audits in NZ to assess a workplace’s ability to meet these minimum legal requirements.

If found wanting, WorkSafe will usually work with the company to raise them to the required standard, but with serious or continuous failings, a business may experience fines and penalties as a consequence.

ISO 45001

ISO 45001 is an international workplace health and safety standard recognised by many countries – including Australia and New Zealand. This voluntary standard demonstrates a willingness to go above and beyond for workplace safety.

There is some overlap between the standards laid out by the ISO 45001 and the HSWA; however, the HSWA was tailored to suit New Zealand’s circumstances. As such, it has additional requirements that do not appear in the ISO 45001 (released in 2018).

Utilising this standard is a smart way for businesses to build a platform for their health and safety and is a great step to showing due diligence. It’s worth noting that compliance with the ISO does not necessarily mean you are fully compliant with the separate HSWA, which is why partnering with a professional company like Smart Safety Solutions is useful for businesses looking to isolate gaps.


Alongside both of these standards, SafePlus is a ‘health and safety improvement toolkit for businesses’. Developed by WorkSafe New Zealand, ACC, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), this is essentially a model of what ‘good’ practices look like at work beyond minimum legal compliance.

SafePlus standards enable ongoing in-depth conversations between all levels of an organisation, inviting continuous improvement of in-house health and safety policies. This is a toolkit, not a legal set of standards, but the Act informs it.

Conducting voluntary SafePlus audits can be an excellent way to understand your business’s current culture and prepare for future audits while building a culture that values collective health, safety, and performance ownership. That said, it’s important to note that going the SafePlus route can have a high barrier of entry in terms of cost.

Working with a team like Smart Safety Solutions means you can discuss which standards will work best for your organisation – and we can help guide you towards meeting those standards in ways that are achievable. We can also help you prepare for an audit according to those standards by making relevant recommendations.

Essential Steps to Prepare Your Business for Compliance Audits

Conduct an Internal Audit

Where possible, it’s better to avoid going into an external compliance audit blind. If you conduct regular internal audits, you will fully understand where improvements might be made to achieve the best compliance result possible. 

Some things you should know about before an audit:

  •  Previous incidents and how they’ve been handled
  • The extent of your in-house policies and procedures as they relate to the HSWA and good practice
  • The availability of health and safety documentation to employees
  • The regularity of your training

Develop or Update Comprehensive Safety Procedures

If you think your procedures are lacking – or not present – it’s time for an update. While completing an entire procedural overhaul within a couple of days is likely impossible, beginning the process is an excellent first step to demonstrate a willingness to comply.

If you’re not preparing for a scheduled audit and simply wish to remain on top of your policies, you can regularly conduct internal audits and update your policies to ensure continuous improvement. 

Provide Adequate In-House Training

Health and safety policies at work are necessary, but the most essential part of having these procedures in place is ensuring your workforce enacts them. And remember, when policies get a major update, it’s important to ensure training is delivered in engaging and achievable ways. 

Even with no updates, in preparation for an upcoming audit, a refresher on the principles of the Act and your in-house policies can be a great jumping-off point.

Prepare Your Documentation

External audits will usually require either:

(a) a full review of your documentation or,

(b) at a minimum, a selection of specific documents that are relevant to the audit being undertaken. 

Make your documentation easily available and well-organised to ensure a smooth audit process that minimises your chances of being found non-compliant. As an example, one of the best audits we’ve ever undertaken was an ACC WSMP audit a few years back, where the health and safety person had prepared the evidence required by section in different folders! 

Documents to prepare can include:

  • Your in-house policies and procedures as they relate to health and safety   
  • Past risk assessments
  • Training sessions undertaken
  • Safety inspections and their outcomes
  • Incident reports
  • Evidence of worker involvement, such as health and safety meetings or consultation of policies and processes
  • Evidence of current or complete projects
  • Evidence of implemented health and safety initiatives     

When in doubt, a good auditor will inform you in advance as to the types of evidence they expect to see. 

Designate a Point of Contact

Finally, ensure you have a single, reliable point of contact in your business who can liaise with external authorities like WorkSafe in the event of an audit. This ensures a smooth process and clear lines of communication – engaging a trained safety consultant to act on your behalf can be really helpful here.

The steps above are broad, with many influencing factors that may change what best practice entails. If possible, it’s a great idea to contract experienced safety consultants to help you prepare for an upcoming audit.

If you have been notified of an upcoming scheduled audit by WorkSafe, have experienced a workplace incident, or just want to stay on top of your company’s ongoing health and safety situation, look no further than Smart Safety Solutions.

Make workplace compliance simple.

At Smart Safety Solutions, we guide you through every necessary step to best meet workplace safety compliance audits NZ-wide.

Preparing for an upcoming audit? Reach out to our team of qualified safety auditors and compliance experts for a free consultation today.