Dom Post on workplace safety

May 2nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

What is known is that each year about 200,000 workers – one out of every 10 – make an ACC claim for a work-related injury or illness. Given that not all workers injured on the job make claims, the actual number of injuries will be even higher.

The total cost to New Zealand of this sorry state of affairs is estimated to be $3.5 billion a year. It is, as the task force notes, a price that is “appalling, unacceptable and unsustainable”.

Several factors are to blame for this intolerable situation. They include regulations that fail to make clear who is responsible for what, weak monitoring, enforcement and penalties and a lack of worker involvement.

The task force has proposed a series of sensible measures to address these issues. They include a recommendation, already accepted by the Government, that a stand-alone agency should be created to oversee safety in workplaces, provide information to workers and employers and collect data on accident, injury and death rates.

The task force has also proposed tougher legislation and penalties and a carrot-and-stick approach that will give incentives, such as lower ACC levies, to employers who reduce injury rates while punishing those who fail to act.

I am a big fan of ACC levies and premiums reflecting your accident record. I say this as an employer that (to the best of my knowledge) has never had a work related injury in nine years – yet pays a significant amount in premiums.

You need both carrot and stick when it comes to workplace safety. It is important that the focus go on the stick only.

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23 Responses to “Dom Post on workplace safety”

  1. Rightandleft (655 comments) says:

    I worry this could take us down the road the UK has taken to high-vis vests and health and safety inspectors everywhere. Once you create a whole agency for this they feel the need to pass more and more regulations to justify their continued existence. Just as coroners make loony recommendations because their job is to recommend how to prevent any future deaths these people will start passing regulations to ensure no one is ever injured at work.

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  2. KiwiGreg (3,218 comments) says:

    You clearly haven’t read this report David. It’s a union wish list. Works councils, increased mandatory access for union reps, a tripartite approach of govt, unions and employers (ignoring fact that most workplaces not unionised). I didn’t word count but I’d not be surprised if the word “union” appears more time than the word “safety”.

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  3. Dennis Horne (2,219 comments) says:

    No price is too high if someone is paying.

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  4. hamnidaV2 (247 comments) says:

    I hope one of the “sticks” is a corporate manslaughter option for employers who knowingly send workers into deadly work environments.

    I hope one of the “carrots” is a Country Calendar-like T.V show where safe and healthy workplaces are promoted to the Nation as a way forward.

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  5. PaulL (5,983 comments) says:

    Eric Crampton has written some interesting material on this, there is a set of implied values that people have in their private lives in terms of risks that are reasonable to accept or not. The reality is that no work place is every zero risk, and some workplaces more risky than others. We cannot create a set of regulations that seek zero risk without making some workplaces impossible.

    Once we accept that there are levels of risk that are OK, and that workers are entitled to take on jobs that have risk in them (being a helicopter pilot for example, or being a farmer), then the question is how we decide what things are acceptable and what are not.

    Many of the things that unions chase here in terms of risk mitigation are not things that people would do in their private life – they’d say “that’s fine, I don’t need to control that, it’s low risk.” It is reasonable to say that, since the person making decisions and the person taking the risk is separated in a work environment, that we apply a higher standard. But that higher standard cannot be infinitely high.

    If we follow that logic, then Ham, you’d want manslaughter for anyone who hires a helicopter pilot?

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  6. OneTrack (2,815 comments) says:

    Dennis Horne (1,008) Says:
    May 2nd, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Shouldn’t that be

    No price is too high if someone ELSE is paying.

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  7. In Vino Veritas (138 comments) says:

    Put as much legislation and rules around workplace safety as you like. But you will never be able to eliminate plain stupidity. And having been around a while, a large chunk of the accidents I’ve seen are from stupidity. The only issue is that employers get saddled with the cost of employees stupidity now.

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  8. hamnidaV2 (247 comments) says:

    PaulL – No, not anyone hiring a helicopter pilot.

    In my view, the helicopter example would come into play if the owner of a helicopter business instructed a pilot (employee in this case) to fly in dangerous conditions and the situation ended in the death of the said pilot. Or if the owner of the helicopter business did not correctly maintain the engines of his/her fleet and a pilot subsequently died in a crash.

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  9. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    I’d prefer workplaces to have a published safety rating, based on assessed industry risk and actual injuries registered.

    Potential employee can make an informed decision on choosing to work somewhere along the lines of PaulL’s suggestion – ie “there’s no more risk here than I accept when mountain biking at the weekend.. so I’ll take the job”

    Current employees could be entitled to 3 months leave in lieu of pay if the published safety rating dropped significantly over the course of their employment. ie there’s always an ‘out’ if the job looks more risky than they accepted on joining.

    At the end of the day, it’s an individual’s role to manage the risks they choose to expose themselves, work, home, play etc. The notion that people are too helpless to assess workplace risk, and therefore need state protection from nasty employers should have gone the way of the Dodo.

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  10. PaulL (5,983 comments) says:

    Right. So Ham, in fact, you’d be asking for the existing law? Or are you asking for a change?

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  11. hamnidaV2 (247 comments) says:

    krazykiwi – You sure are krazy (sic).

    Your views could have limited merit on a planet where unemployment is 0% and employees have access to all relevant health and safety information in their workplace. I note that such information is in a constant state of flux.

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  12. Manolo (13,517 comments) says:

    Labour Lite should privatise ACC and leave it to the market.

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  13. hamnidaV2 (247 comments) says:

    PaulL – A change whereby an employer or employee can be charged with manslaughter for allowing a worker or colleague to die on the job.

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  14. Colville (2,184 comments) says:

    In my view, the helicopter example would come into play if the owner of a helicopter business instructed a pilot (employee in this case) to fly in dangerous conditions

    The most perfect calm day can be shown to be dangerous if after the fact the helicopter crashed which it will do one flight in a million for no particular reason. Walking across the street is dangerous, busses leap out of hiding and squash innocent people!

    In fact I am going back to bed, its just not safe sitting here.

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  15. edhunter (520 comments) says:

    It’s a bit of a conumdrum, no one wants serious injuries or deaths on work sites, but the more regulations, training, red tape etc that is put in place adds to cost of any product/service being offered. The more costly a NZ product the more likely one is to buy an imported product almost definitely from a country that doesn’t have the same regard for their workers that we do, leading to job losses in NZ.
    The Bangladesh building collapse recently is an extreme but not uncommon example of overseas working conditions, and dont get me started on overseas mining standards. It makes it very hard to be competative when the competition aren’t playing by the same rules.

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  16. simonway (375 comments) says:

    It is important that the focus go on the stick only.

    I think you may have left out a word there.

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  17. berend (1,673 comments) says:

    PaulL: not many employees are able to calculate the risk they’re taking. And if they see their colleagues doing it, they might think it’s normal!

    I also would like a more market based approach, so the riskier your sector is, and the riskier you are the more you pay. You can’t influence risk of your sector directly, but you can do your own. Your own business risk can then be calculated on past performance, and how well you track against safety KPIs.

    Some penalty for ACC (5% less salary next year?) when it appears that they are requiring businesses to meet KPIs that have negligible impact on safety should keep the increase of stupid regulation in check.

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  18. berend (1,673 comments) says:

    edhunter: but the more regulations, training, red tape etc that is put in place adds to cost of any product/service being offered.

    Hmm, in my opinion we’re not really there. Too many building and roofing businesses take stupid risks, and cut corners to safe money.

    The question is perhaps a bit more: are we rich enough to afford modern safety regulation. And that’s the key problem I suspect.

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  19. PaulL (5,983 comments) says:

    @Ham, I’m pretty sure that employers already face manslaughter charges Ham, that’s not a change. A certain recent mining situation comes to mind.

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  20. Akld Commercial Lawyer (165 comments) says:

    V. difficult area to get right – but some things must change. I find myself siding with Helen Kelly over some of the fines (as being no disincentive to curb dangerous practices) at one end of the spectrum and am opposed to the Berryman bridge type witchhunts at the other. But when you look at the raw data for farming, forestry, fishing and a couple of others – you see that things must change. The report refers to a lethal nexus between high-risk population groups and high-risk industries. IMHO this is sad but true – and we can’t stand by and allow this pattern to continue. It is very costly – and is damaging people, in many cases permanently.

    But any regulatory framework must be right sized for the NZ economy too.

    I think I have more faith in this Govt to get that balance right than would be the case for a Greens / Labour coalition.

    We shall see what emerges.

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  21. Viking2 (11,275 comments) says:

    I noted some figures published recently where we are no spending an extra 40 million dollars per years on scaffolding protection for roofies against a mere $8 million in claims.
    Worse much of this new scaffolding makes the work less safe.
    Go figure.

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  22. Steve (North Shore) (4,522 comments) says:

    Is ACC Welfare or Insurance? We pay TAX for Welfare and we pay TAX/Levy/etc for ACC.
    With Insurance you can decide the level to Insure.
    With ACC you have no choice, and when/if you have an ACCIDENT, you still have no choice – you get what they say you will get.
    4 years down the track and I am not finished with ACC yet

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  23. edhunter (520 comments) says:

    Just as an aside and as an example recreational skiers should be paying a premium to ski in as much your average skier is not normally working in a high risk job which attracts the higher ACC premium.

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