Workplace injury inquiries drop

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 09:37 27/12/2012

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Just two Waikato businesses have been hauled through the courts in the last two years after their employees were injured, despite the region having an appalling record for workplace accidents.

Less than half of the 590 accidents reported to the Department of Labour - which became part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment in July - in the 2011/2012 year were investigated, figures released to the Waikato Times show.

Figures show a 23 per cent drop in investigations on the previous year when 72 per cent of cases were investigated.

The ministry's regional manager Ona de Rooy told the Times an increased focus on going out and educating and engaging workplaces about the risks had contributed to the drop.

"There's a balance for us," she said. "If we want workplace behaviour to change and stay changed, [workplaces] need to understand the risks and what safe looks like. It's about a balance because it's also clear that we have an enforcement role."

The Waikato is over-represented when it comes to workplace accidents, contributing to 14 per cent of all workplace deaths, and 9 per cent of serious harm accidents, nationally.

These statistics, and the Pike River mine tragedy of 2010, have led to calls for a charge of corporate manslaughter to be brought in - but Ms de Rooy would not comment on whether she thought that would help reduce the deaths.

She did say things needed to change.

"The reality is we've got too many New Zealanders dying or being seriously harmed while they're at work and not going home to their families."

The issue of corporate manslaughter is being looked at by the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, set up in June 2012 to complete a comprehensive review of New Zealand's health and safety system.

It will provide recommendations - including whether corporate manslaughter should be bought in - to the Government by the end of April 2013.

Chairman Rob Jager told the Times it was "certainly on our radar screen", but it had only recently started being used in other countries, like Canada and Australia, so it was not yet clear how successful it had been.

"But there is some anecdotal evidence that the risk of corporate manslaughter appears to have an impact on how some managers view their responsibilities."

Mr Jager said New Zealand had an "abysmal" and "unacceptable" record of workplace deaths and accidents, but there was no easy fix.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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