Death and Injury in the Workplace: Why Doesn’t New Zealand Stack Up?

When you wake up in the morning the last thing you expect is to be seriously harmed or killed while going about your job. While you are enjoying your Marmite on toast before heading towards an unknown day the sad fact is that our Vegemite eating counterparts in Australia are less inclined to be harmed in the workplace than you are. The workplace injury rate in New Zealand is about twice that of Australia, which is very sobering!

Rob Jager who chairs the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety has been set the job of discovering the reasons behind why our death and injury rates are so much higher compared to Australia. He suggests a multitude of reasons for why this may be including changing workplace practices and environments, regulatory ‘fitness’ and our own culture. While there are provisions in place to promote health and safety in New Zealand, there are still accidents occurring and there is more that needs to be done to reduce the huge discrepancy when compared with other countries. The reasons for why injuries and deaths occur in the workplace are numerous and multi-faceted. According to claims made to ACC for work-related injury in 2009, males are more likely to be injured or killed at work than females; older workers are more vulnerable than other age groups; and self-employed workers are more likely to be injured at work than workers in employment relationships.

Anecdotal evidence put forward suggests that there may be sub-groups of the population who are disproportionately at risk of an injury. These are people such as employees who are new to a position, or those engaged in temporary, causal or seasonal work. It is much easier to hire temporary staff rather than committing to a permanent employee. Bringing someone in as and when needed is seen as a cost-effective way of meeting business demands. The risk however is that temporary employees are often not screened as rigorously as permanent employees and they can be expected to start performing well immediately, with little investment in their induction. Contractors are another example of this; they may not go through health and safety induction programmes as would new permanent employees. Changes to standard working arrangements have also been seen as problematic. More people are working part-time, holding multiple jobs and engaging in irregular patters such as working from home. As a result the need to manage risk across a variety of different settings is becoming more complex. Due to the diverse nature of New Zealand organisations, the development of a framework for health and safety that is adaptable and meets the needs of all areas of a business is paramount.

Some points to consider:

What does your organisation do to mitigate risk in the changing face of the workplace?

How does this accident record reflect on New Zealand companies as employers of choice?

To gather as much information from workers, employers and interested parties Rob Jager is asking for submissions to be made on how the country can reduce workplace injuries. Anyone seeking to make a submission to the can do so online at www.hstaskforce.govt.nz. Submissions close Friday November 16th 2012.

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