Construction site injuries spike

17:00, Jul 25 2014

Crushed feet, thumbs amputated by saws and limbs caught in machinery are contributing to a spike in serious workplace injuries in Canterbury's post-earthquake rebuild.

Prohibition notices shutting down unsafe construction sites have risen 1700 per cent, from 13 in 2010 to 224 in 2013.

In the same time period, injuries have more than doubled, from 64 to 139, and written warnings on workplace safety also rose 500 per cent, from 31 to 163.

The rise in injuries and site shut-downs is out of proportion with the rise in the number of workers.

According to Statistics New Zealand, construction worker numbers increased 60 per cent between 2010 and 2013.

Unions and workplace safety representatives say the new construction workers converging on the city are often less experienced, and could become a hazard in the workplace without proper training.


Census figures show more than 4000 new working immigrants have been in Christchurch less than two years.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) president Helen Kelly said Filipino workers could be particularly at risk of injury.

"They can lack experience on New Zealand sites, plus they're often living in poor conditions, not getting enough sleep, working long hours, and often can't raise health and safety concerns because if they lose their job, they lose their visa," she said.

NZCTU wanted legislation that could guarantee the employment of immigrant workers if they were let go for raising health and safety concerns, Kelly said.

A WorkSafe New Zealand spokeswoman said there were a "whole range of issues" pushing up serious harm notifications in Christchurch, including an increase in "vulnerable new workers".

"New workers and migrant workers working on the Canterbury rebuild are thought to be more at risk to health and safety issues given they may face a number of issues others workers do not, such as lack of experience and/or language or cultural difficulties," she said.

Other contributors to injury rates were the scale of work required and the hazardous nature of rebuild work.

In some of the accident reports, employers said workers had been "unfamiliar with the tools" or "rushing".

The 45 recorded by WorkSafe in the first three months of this year included crushed feet, thumbs lost to saws, and limbs caught in machinery.

One man was using a concrete saw to cut a manhole when it jammed and rode back, lacerating his face. Others fell several metres from scaffolding or lost control of heavy vehicles.

Kelly said there had been positive steps to protect rebuild workers, but there was still more to be done.

Registered Master Builders chief executive Warwick Quinn said there were "issues" with health and safety culture in construction.

There was no single competency standard for site safety so different sites and workers had different degrees of health and safety knowledge and training, he said.

His organisation was working to create a single standard of competency every worker would have to meet to get on site.

Fulton Hogan refused to speak to The Press about the three serious harm accidents - a fall, lacerated and broken hand and crushed toe - experienced by its workers in the first three months of this year. The company would "not be subject to trial by media", a spokesman said.

It later issued a statement saying it was "committed to zero harm" and "put safety first".

Employers could face fines of up to $3 million if they fail to meet their health and safety responsibilities under the incoming Health and Safety Reform Bill.

As well as heavier penalties, the reforms put the onus on employers to manage risks and keep their workers safe.

The Press