The number of injuries occurring in New Zealand workplaces every year would fill Eden Park almost four times, and that’s on top of the hundred workers who die in the workplace every year- an average of nearly two a week.
“This is simply not good enough and needs to change” said Rob Jager who chairs the Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety which will make recommendations to government on how to reduce workplace harm. New Zealand’s workplace injury rates are about twice that of Australia and almost six times that of the UK.
The Taskforce is made up of six members- five from business and just one form organised Labour. Jager is the chairman of Shell in New Zealand and General Manager of Shell Todd Services. Other members are Mavis Mullins, Director at Paewai Mullins Shearing; Michael Cosman, Managing Director of Impac Services; Paula Rose, former National Manager Road Policing; William Rosenberg, Policy Director/Economist for the Council of Trade Unions; and Paul Mackay, Manager Employment Relations at Business New Zealand.
“Workplace injuries are not an isolated issue they affect everyone - and occur as a result of a combination of many things including changing workplace practices and environments, regulatory ‘fitness’ and perhaps even our own culture.” Said Jagar.
It’s unlikely that the taskforce will identify the pursuit of profit as a factor in unsafe workplaces. Yet this is what is behind many injuries- speed up, with its resulting fatigue, understaffing, and cost-cutting are all the result of a drive to extra more wealth from human labour. As this exploitative relationship is the basis of our economic system its unlikely to be mentioned by a group made up of corporate higher-ups (and a token trade unionist).
Nonetheless, some recommendations from the taskforce could –if implemented- give more protection to workers. The taskforce acknowledges “There’s evidence from industrial accident investigations that production pressure can lead to workplace health and safety being overlooked or not prioritised” and notes that an increasing number of overseas jurisdictions are applying broader criminal and civil sanctions to the workplace including consideration of manslaughter and specific offences of corporate manslaughter.
The document is available online at www.hstaskforce.govt.nz. And input from the public is welcomed. Respondents can fill in an online form to make a submission or provide their own written account to the Taskforce by email or in hard copy. Submissions close at 5pm on November 16, 2012. The Taskforce is due to report to government by April 30, 2013.