Workplace safety report hailed

The high rate of workplace deaths and injuries in Dunedin, Otago and the rest of the country is "unacceptable" and must be reduced, a former Unions Otago convener says.

Glenda Alexander, now the New Zealand Nurses Organisation associate industrial services manager, yesterday welcomed the release of a hard-hitting consultation document from the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, which aims to cut the national injury and death toll by 25% by 2020.

The consultation report says it is about twice as dangerous to work in New Zealand as it is in Australia and nearly four times as risky as working in Britain.

The overall annual cost to New Zealand of the workplace death and injury toll is $3.5 billion.

The report says about 100 people die of New Zealand workplace accidents every year, 700-1000 die of work-related diseases and more than 6000 have a serious-harm incident in their workplace.

About 190,000 people claim medical costs through being harmed at work, 25,000 are hurt badly enough to be off work for a week and 370 end up with a life-threatening condition.

Task force chairman Rob Jager said it hoped to clarify why the country's workplace health and safety record was so bad, with the help of the public and the business community, who were both invited to make submissions on how the injury toll can be cut.

Ms Alexander said about four to five workers died in Dunedin and Otago each year, and sometimes more, through injuries in the workplace.

Dozens of other people also received serious injuries in Otago.

Those deaths were not only a tragic loss for the workers immediately concerned, but the deaths and injuries also inflicted wider damage on the deceaseds' families, often depriving them of their breadwinner.

"And it impacts on the rest of our community."

Every year on Anzac Day, New Zealanders commemorated those who had died fighting on behalf of the country.

But on International Workers Memorial Day, only a few days later on April 28, a further grim toll was marked, and these deaths and serious injuries arose from accidents in the workforce and were largely preventable, she said.

She had repeatedly spoken out against the workplace toll, and it was "frustrating" that it remained so high.

"What we should be doing is about getting compliance [with health and safety standards] both as employees and as employers."

There was no room for "shortcuts" or a "she'll be right" approach, and the worry was that financial pressures and worker stress arising from the economic downturn could lead to more accidents.

The task force plans to hold public consultation meetings next month, submissions on the consultation document close on November 16 and a final report will be presented to the Government next April 30.

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