Former employees of a large construction company involved in some of the country's major tunnelling projects allege they were told to lie about injuries and say they happened in their own time in order to project a clean safety record and reduce costs.
The workers have told the Sunday Star-Times that supervisors and managers at McConnell Dowell, which designed and built the Pike River coal mine and is now involved in the Waterview motorway extension project in Auckland, would regularly say at "toolbox" meetings that if minor accidents occurred on the job that required medical attention, workers were to say they happened at home or playing sport.
This was so it wouldn't be recorded as a workplace accident. McConnell Dowell is part of ACC's accredited employer programme, under which it covers injury claims in exchange for levy reductions of up to 90 per cent.
McConnell Dowell's managing director, Roger McRae, said he was "very concerned" by the allegations. He could not rule out that lower level managers had given that message, but it would go against the company's policy of encouraging all accidents to be reported.
He said he personally had visited worksites and encouraged workers to report accidents or stop work if they had concerns. The company was proud of its safety record and had a "zero harm" policy.
But a Star-Times investigation found several workers involved in numerous McConnell Dowell projects were concerned that if they spoke out about health and safety concerns, they would lose their jobs.
One worker said he was threatened with his job when he raised concerns that a "man cage" was being filled past capacity.
Another said he had lied to doctors about how he injured his hand - saying he did it on a punching bag - because the message had been sent that such injuries should not be declared as workplace accidents.
The former workers said supervisors were obsessed with avoiding LTIs - lost time injuries - which were all-important when tendering for lucrative new contracts.
They alleged corners were being cut to meet deadlines for bonus payments.
McRae said there was pressure to meet deadlines but the message was sent clearly to staff that progress was not to come at the expense of safety.
A spokesperson for ACC said accredited employers were expected to provide accurate information each month about their injury claims, and the corporation would investigate any "non compliant activity".
New Zealand's workplace safety record is in the spotlight, with an Independent Taskforce report in April finding the system was "not fit for task" and major changes were needed to save lives.
IN HARM'S WAY / Focus, page 12
- © Fairfax NZ News