Construction injury rates mean 50 deaths by 2018

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 08:41 03/10/2012

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The Rebuild

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If the Kiwi construction industry's woeful current injury rates play out during the Canterbury rebuild, by 2018 about 50 people will die on Canterbury work sites, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson says.

And 600,000 hours would be lost to injury and illness, costing the Accident Compensation Authority $80 million.

At the Christchurch Safe Rebuild Seminar at the Addington Events Centre yesterday, Wilkinson said New Zealand had much to learn from the health and safety example set by the London Olympic Games build project.

Kiwis were six times more likely to injure themselves at work than their British counterparts which was unacceptable, she said.

"To put it bluntly, they do health and safety better than we do in New Zealand."

Although no construction or demolition workers have been killed during the rebuild, three people had been injured seriously enough within the central city redzone to be reported to the Labour Group of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

One person sprained an ankle, another was injured when he tested the power of a waterblaster on his hand and, the most serious, was a man who broke his neck falling off a ladder at the Hotel Grand Chancellor demolition.

Several serious injuries have been reported from rebuild sites in the greater Christchurch area, but the Labour Group did not have those figures to hand yesterday.

The London Olympic Games venues were the first modern games construction project done without any workers dying on the job, British health and safety regulator chairwoman Judith Hackitt told the Canterbury forum.

Hackitt said the London Olympics build had turned a wasteland into the Olympic venues and village with fewer injuries than the national average while still finishing on budget and on time.

Five permanent stadiums, 11 residential blocks, 30 bridges, new rail lines and roads were built.

The workforce was smaller than the expected Canterbury rebuild force, but still a significant size with parallels to the Canterbury rebuild, Hackitt said.

At its height, the project employed 12,500 and over its five-year life about 46,000 people worked on the sites for a total of 80 million hours.

Over that time, there were 150 reportable injuries and no deaths, which was below the national all-industry average injury rate, she said.

That had been done through a co-operative rather than heavy-inspection approach, that reached deep under management of the private firms running the build projects, she said.

That meant site foremen were pushing their teams to do things the safe way, rather than the quick cavalier way, creating a change in attitude that continued beyond the Olympics project, she said.

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