Worksafe found to be misleading

Stuff reported:

Government safety agency NZ has taken television advertisements off-air after the ruled they exaggerated the impact of workplace accidents.

The ASA said the adverts, which were designed to draw attention to the impact of workplace accidents on families, were misleading.

The embarrassing admonishment stemmed from WorkSafe’s claim that more than 23,000 people were severely injured or killed in New Zealand workplaces last year.

Pleased to see the ASA ruling. The definition Worksafe used as severely injured is not one that almost anyone else would think it means.

WorkSafe explained – but not in the broadcasts – that the injuries were ones that required people to have more than a week off work.

WorkSafe NZ chief executive Gordon MacDonald said the government agency made no apology for “challenging New Zealand to do better when it comes to keeping everyone healthy and safe at work”.

WorkSafe should apologise for misleading the public. Good intentions do not justify the means. A government agency of all bodies should be concerned with accuracy.

But its advertisements, which were part funded by ACC, would be “temporarily withdrawn” and edited before being put back on air.    

The ASA said most of the 23,000 injuries referred to by WorkSafe in the adverts were strains or cuts, while there were 44 deaths.

Describing those injuries as “severe” created a misleading impression, the ASA said, especially given the “tone and emotive imagery” of the advertisements which included footage of workers returning from work and hugging their children.

You’d think 23,000 people had broke their legs or worse from the ads.

Wellington economist Ian Harrison, who brought the original complaint, said WorkSafe had been clipped around the ears and he expected it would be “spewing”.

He had taken issue with the adverts because of a matter of principle, he said.

“People can advocate for what they like, but being clear about facts is absolutely essential for government departments. They shouldn’t play fast and loose.”

Well done Mr Harrison.

MacDonald said the complaint about the adverts had been a distraction.

That’s a disturbing view from a government chief executive. Rather than apologise, he labels the successful complaint a distraction.

The claim that generated the most controversy was read out by Griffin’s Foods chief executive, Alison Barrass, who has since been appointed a director of Spark.

Another – read out by farmer Sir David Fagan – that New Zealand’s workplace death and severe injury rate was double that of Australia was also misleading, the ASA said.

Harrison said that while the death rate was 60 per cent higher in New Zealand last year, that reflected the fact that its labour force was more heavily concentrated in hazardous occupations, and the injury rate was not higher.

So it was misleading in two areas.

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