Taskforce targets workplace injury toll

ROB STOCK
Last updated 07:43 17/09/2012

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Bigger fines and tougher penalties for companies and directors could be one of the ways to improve New Zealand's deplorable workplace injury and death toll.

The just-published Safer Workplaces report by the Independent Taskforce reveals New Zealand's workplace safety record is twice as bad as Australia's and four times as bad as Britain's, and that those injured in the workplace each year would fill Eden Park four times over.

The toll includes 100 dead each year, 25,000 people hurt badly enough to be off work for a week, and 370 hospitalised and diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.

The taskforce, headed by Shell New Zealand chairman Rob Jager, is tasked with formulating policies aimed at cutting the toll by 25 per cent by 2020. Among the options could be much tougher laws aimed at forcing directors to make their workplaces safer.

The report suggests that there are too few health and safety inspectors - around 150 - meaning it is unlikely companies will be visited often, if at all. Also New Zealand's system of fines and penalties lags behind those of similar economies overseas.

In New Zealand the consequences of a prosecution range from a discharge without conviction to a fine of $500,000 and two years' imprisonment.

But though that may sound tough, the report says of the 2438 fines imposed by the courts since 1992, the average fine is $8275.

In Australia the top fine is A$3 million (NZ$3.8m). In the UK, it is unlimited.

“If the risk of being found non-compliant is low and the financial penalties or the effects on reputation are also low then the incentives for non-compliant firms to invest in workplace health and safety are low,” the report says. “The decision to be non-compliant may therefore be perceived to be worth the risk as the result of being caught has little impact.”

The report floats other options, too, for creating a life-saving revolution in workplace safety.

These include health and safety duties for directors being written into the Companies Act with criminal charges for breaches, and requiring companies to have formal risk management plans.

It would appear that some reform, and possibly greater investment of government funds, is needed in the regulators.

But Jager said while leadership from directors is vital, workplace safety is a matter for everybody, workers and customers included. Jager says a 25 per cent reduction is a realistic target, but the taskforce is more ambitious than that, and wants nothing short of the kind of cultural shift that has seen attitudes to smoking, drink-driving and the use of sunscreen change for the better.

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SAD STATISTICS

Men: Account for 95 per cent of work-related fatalities and are more than twice as likely to be seriously injured. Older workers: The serious injury rate for those under 54-years-old is 14 per 1000 fulltime workers. It's 18 per 1000 for those aged 55-64, and 49 for those aged 65 and over.

Maori and Pacific Island workers: For every 1000 Maori workers, the serious injury rate is 18. It's 15 for Pacific Island workers, 14 for Pakeha, six for Asian, but 33 for “other” workers including Middle Eastern, Latin American and African.

Self-employed: Injury rates for the self-employed are twice as high as for those employed by others.

New employees, migrants and non-English speakers: Anecdote suggests these workers are more likely to be hurt at work.

- Waikato Times

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