WorkSafe Week 5-9 October 1998

  • Marie Hasler
Associate Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation Insurance

The workplace should not be a place where people risk injury or even death. Yet an appalling number of New Zealanders are being killed and injured on the job.

As some of you may know I have a particular interest in this field. I worked in this area as a former Department of Labour inspector. My principle job was to ensure factory machinery was safe for our workers.

I believe just one work-related death, or even one work-related injury is one too many.

In the 1997/98 financial year, there were 56 workplace deaths investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Service (OSH). Forty-one of those deaths were in the three industries of construction, farming, and forestry.

The construction industry, with 17 deaths - a 70 percent increase over the previous year - achieved the unenviable record of New Zealand's most dangerous industry.

In an attempt to counter these horrific figures, OSH last year launched its first ever WorkSafe Week in conjunction with its Together to Zero; Eliminating Workplace Deaths.

This strategy is a call to industry, employers, employees, unions and the community to join together with OSH, to stamp out death and serious injury in the workplace.

This year's WorkSafe Week concentrates on the preventable tragedy of workplace deaths and injuries. Construction will be a major focus.

Too many of New Zealand's construction workers have died falling from heights, caused by something so simple as not having a safety harness clipped on.

This was the fate suffered by a worker who died at Carisbrook while working on the grandstand earlier this year. His workmate also fell and was seriously injured. He only narrowly avoided what could have been a double fatality.

The key message is: "no job is worth dying for".

For every fatality, many others are seriously harmed, with ramifications going far beyond the actual injury. These often include economic hardship for the family, strains on relationships, the end of sporting and recreational life and, in general, a dramatic decrease in the quality of life.

Just weeks ago, a young South Island second division NPC player lost several fingers after a work accident. He may never play again.

OSH is delighted Mainzeal, the Eden Park Rugby Trust and the Auckland Rugby Football Union are giving their support to WorkSafe Week.

The WorkSafe campaign relies on the support and awareness of the wider industry, the community, employers and employees. Role models such as rugby players are also important to get the message to the many young workers in the high-risk construction sector.

The costs to society, and the economy, of these workplace accidents are high. OSH estimates workplace accidents cost the country a staggering $4.2 billion per year, while workplace deaths alone are estimated to cost $150 million.

The changes to the delivery of the ACC scheme, scheduled for July next year, aim to reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and deaths.

From 1 July 1999, employers and self-employed people will be able to choose their insurer for workplace accident cover. As well, a Government owned commercial insurer (an SOE) will compete on a neutral basis with private insurers for this business.

People will have at least the same level of cover and entitlements and the scheme will continue to be 24-hour, no fault, comprehensive and compulsory - but there will no longer be a state run monopoly providing insurance cover for work-related injuries.

The Government will legislate to prevent insurers undercutting the current level of cover. This way workers and their families know they will always be looked after if they are injured at work. The same applies to families of someone killed at work.

Competition will only apply to the insurance employers carry to cover workplace injuries.

The Corporation will continue to deliver the ACC scheme for injuries occurring outside work, for example weekend rugby games, which are paid for by a levy on earners; for injuries caused by motor vehicles, which are paid for through car registration and a levy on petrol; and the Government will continue to pay for injuries suffered by people outside of the workforce.

Until July 1999, ACC will still cover and administer services for people who suffer workplace accidents.

Self employed people, however, will be able to buy one insurance package covering both injuries, at work and out of work. They will also be able to, if they choose, stay with the existing ACC.

The advantages of opening the employers' account to competition centre around choice, and the increased incentives on employers, this creates to prevent injuries happening, as well as to better focus on rehabilitation.

While the risk of injury and the past record of injury rates are taken into account in setting premiums, 85 percent of the premium pays for injuries that happened in the past. So, as with other general insurance, these changes mean the ACC scheme will become fully funded over the next 15 years.

Employers with a good safety record who manage the risk of injuries and focus on rehabilitation are likely to be rewarded with lower premiums, while those with poor records whose workers have a high injury rate will be penalised with higher premiums.

Hitting bad employers in the pocket is an excellent way of focusing the mind on prevention. It makes good sense to reward employers with a strong anti-accident record and rehabilitation focus and that's good news for employees.

Again, the incentives to get people off the scheme and back to work are powerful for insurers and employers alike. While there are concerns that workers may be forced back to work before they are ready, the Government will ensure this situation is addressed as part of the regulatory environment that is established around the market.

Finally, I would like to congratulate Mainzeal Construction who wanted to show their commitment to health and safety by organising this event during WorkSafe Week.

Thank you for inviting along today.