Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill 4/4

Margaret Wilson Labour
New Zealand Workplace

It is widely agreed that New Zealand does not have an adequate data set of
work-related fatalities1. As a consequence,
estimates of work-related fatalities are based on multiple database analysis,
individual cases reports and historical/overseas trends. Hindering effective
comparisons are different database objectives and varying data quality. It is
however, commonly believed that the following estimates under estimate the true
extent of work-related fatalities.

The following figures are commonly used to quantify the number of workplace
deaths in New Zealand each year.

There were an estimated 160 work-related fatal
injuries in the 1998/99 year.

This figure reflects the 163 work related injuries that were reported on page
4 of the 1998/99 State of New Zealand's Occupational Safety and Health, December

This includes 44 deaths investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health
Service of the Department of Labour, 105 deaths that happened to people on the
road3, 9 maritime deaths and 5 during civil
aviation operations.

This represents the most recent physical count of work-related fatalities.
Physical count means the figure was derived solely from databases relating to
that time period.

Work-related means "occurred in a place of work". In other words, the people
killed may not all have been workers, but may have been killed as a result of a
work activity.

There are an estimated 400 work-related fatal
illnesses every year.

This figure also reflects page 4 of the 1998/99 State of New Zealand's
Occupational Safety and Health, December 19994.

Unlike the previous figure this is an estimate, as most deaths from
occupational disease are not recorded as such.

This figure is supported by a recent study by Dave McLean5 of the Wellington School of Medicine that estimated
the number of deaths from occupational disease in New Zealand to be between
250-600 per year. The basis for this range was a widely agreed estimate that
4%6 of cancer deaths are due to
occupational exposures.

How does this compare with other statistics on workplace

  • The work-related fatalities investigated by the Occupational Safety and
    Health Service, and reported by the Department of Labour are a subset of the 160
    work-related fatal injuries.
  • There are 1999/2000 figures due to be released by the Accident Insurance
    Regulator, which describe total workplace fatalities in New Zealand able to be
    specifically identified as 113. This number probably under-estimates the number
    of transport-related deaths and does not include non-drivers killed as a result
    of a work-related motor vehicle accident. It also does not include the full
    extent of work-related illness.

Occupational Safety and Health Service, 2001

Work-Related Fatal Injuries in New Zealand 1985-1994: Recommendations on the
establishment of ongoing work injury mortality surveillance. New Zealand
Environmental and Occupational health Research Centre, University of Otago.
Produced by the Occupational Safety and Health Service of the Department of
This information was extracted from the LTSA database, and due to
limitations on "work-related" indicators is highly likely to be an
underestimate. Includes drivers (taxis, trucks and buses) and non-drivers (e.g.
bystanders killed by a logging truck roll over). Does not include a range of
professions which may have been using a vehicle as part of their work (e.g.
sales representatives).
This report used the workplace illness fatality figure for New Zealand
estimated in the Together to Zero Occupational Disease Task Force Report, 1996.
The Hidden Hazards: Occupational Health and working in a large business.
Dave McLean, Wellington School of Medicine. Dave McLean is in the process of
updating this study.
The causes of cancer: quantitative estimates of avoidable risks of cancer in
the United States today.
Richard Doll and Richard Peto, Journal of the
National Cancer Institute 66