Why have Workplace Fatalities Increased and what can be done about this?
After their second year in operation, WorkSafe New Zealand has released their annual report for 2015/2016 (1st July 2015 – 30st June 2016).
One of the key highlights for the year was the new Health and Safety at Work Act that was released on the 4th April 2016. The idea behind this was to enhance awareness of workplace health and safety and to minimise workplace fatalities and injuries.
The report highlighted that 72% of people reported to have a better understanding of their health and safety responsibilities, could this be a result of the new act? We hope so!
However, the big question on everyone’s mind is ‘has the new Health and Safety at Work Act positively impacted the workplace fatality rate?’ Unfortunately the answer to this question is unclear as the new act was only released in the last quarter of the report. The next annual report will provide us with a better representation.
Over 2015/2016 there were 59 workplace fatalities in New Zealand. This is a 23% increase compared to 2014/2015. The Agriculture sector has once again been the biggest contributor towards this number, with 28.8% of total workplace deaths belonging to this sector. This high number of fatalities is still unacceptable and disappointing.
An interesting comment in the report, WorkSafe New Zealand stated the following: “Workplace fatalities and injuries requiring hospitalisation are trending down, indicating progress towards lifting health and safety performance.” We find this statement misleading as it gives the impression that fatalities had decreased compared to the previous year. In fact they increased. It was the reduction in workplace injuries that decreased putting the combined number of fatalities and injuries in a better position compared to the previous year.
On a more positive note, there was a total of 16,959 assessments undertaken by WorkSafe New Zealand inspectors and contractors. This equates to approximately 30 assessments per day, an increase of 20% compared to 2014/2015. This is an impressive increase considering WorkSafe has kept the same number of staff. Of the 16,959 assessments, 87% of these were in high priority areas and 4,983 were on work-related health. Additionally, 493 investigations and 98 prosecutions (of which 91% were successful) took place.
WorkSafe have the resources to make a difference. But clearly there is a disconnect somewhere, as workplace deaths have not decreased. Something needs to change to position New Zealand’s workplace death toll into a downwards spiral.
What do you believe can be done to decrease workplace fatalities throughout New Zealand? How can WorkSafe reduce this number and prevent families and communities from losing loved ones? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
The next annual report will give a better representation as to whether the Health and Safety at Work Act has a positive influence on workplace fatalities. Here’s hoping it will provide better numbers!
If you would like some additional Health and Safety information from WorkSafe New Zealand then head over to their website. They provide over 80 guidance publications including, guidelines, fact sheets, case studies and toolkits on their website.