• Max Bradford

Labour Minister Max Bradford today called on industry - particularly the construction, farming and forestry industries - to take greater heed of its moral and legal responsibilities in the wake of a higher workplace fatality rate.

"The death of 56 New Zealand workers in the past 12 months is a distress call to industry groups, employers and employees to work with OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) to reduce this tragic figure," Mr Bradford said.

"It cannot be said too often that one death is one too many. "

Mr Bradford said that, coupled with the urgent call for industry to take greater heed of its responsibilities, the Coalition Government will be considering a range of new initiatives - such as emphasising the role of principals in ensuring building site safety and "spot fines".

Over the past year, fatalities in the three highest risk industries of construction, farming and forestry together matched the total number of workplace deaths in 1996/97.

"I am particularly concerned about the fatality rate in construction which has risen 70 per cent in the past year."

Mr Bradford said a report by OSH on a two week safety blitz on the construction industry held in May this year identified the following key problems: an apparent lack of effective control and co-ordination of building site work; poorly designed, erected or used scaffolding; working unprotected at heights; and lack of knowledge about acceptable fall protection methods.

"The common theme is what OSH describes as the widespread 'macho man' attitude in the construction sector," he said. "An example of this, noted by an OSH inspector, is the worker who remarked during the blitz 'I have been doing this work for 30 years and never had an accident' - while hiding his left hand which had two fingers missing.

"The industry - employers and employees - have got to realise that a macho, short-cut and risk-taking attitude is of absolutely no condolence to grieving families and friends."

Mr Bradford said that given the results of the blitz, OSH would be exploring a range of new initiatives.

"These will include the possible introduction of 'spot fines' of both employers and employees, which overseas have proven to be a credible and timely deterrent with more safety offences being penalised," he said.

"Other initiatives to be considered will be targeted information campaigns with more accessible guidance material, and strategies to increase the chance of detection of unsafe workplaces and practices."

Mr Bradford said the formation of an industry-led safety led organisation, Construction Injury Prevention, is a huge step forward and will enable the industry in conjunction with OSH to implement effective safety strategies.

(Construction Injury Prevention was set up late last year to develop best safety practices, provide on-site safety advice to builders and to work with OSH and other agencies to enhance information and compliance standards.)

"Other initiatives such as the new National Safety Qualification, launched by the BCITO (Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation) in March will be essential ingredients."

Mr Bradford said OSH will also be targeting the other high risk industries - agriculture, forestry and the industry-wide use of hazardous substances.

He stressed that, not only did workplace deaths have tragically high costs in human terms, but that the financial cost should also come as sobering news.

"Workplace deaths are estimated to cost New Zealand around $150 million a year," he said. "The tragic social cost, combined with this financial burden shows why the Government urges all involved in the workplace such as principals, developers, contractors, employers, the self-employed and employees be proactive in avoiding workplace accidents and injuries."