29 Aug 2023

Workplace death, injuries costing economy estimated $4.4 billion a year - report

8:52 am on 29 August 2023
A sign warns of hazards on a building site

New Zealand's high fatality rates are replicated across many industries, suggesting systemic issues. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Workplace death and injuries are costing the economy $4.4 billion a year, a new report estimates .

The inaugural State of a Thriving Nation report by the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum shows, on average, 73 people are killed in work accidents each year.

That is equal to the United Kingdom's fatality rate from the 1980s and is double the current rate in Australia, which also has a serious-injury rate 20 percent lower than New Zealand's.

Economist and report author Shamubeel Eaqub said if New Zealand matched those figures, nearly $1 billion could be saved annually.

Although the report stated fatality rates can be affected by large one-off events like the Whakaari / White Island volcanic eruption, New Zealand's high fatality rates are replicated across many industries, suggesting systemic issues that need to be addressed.

The report said the incoming government needed to prioritise health and safety, for the benefit of the economy and people's lives.

It said a new government should focus on the Health and Safety at Work Strategy 2018-28 which has not yet published a work plan, first planned for delivery in 2019, nor established any form of system oversight or governance.

It also pointed out the number of WorkSafe inspectors had fallen from 8.4 per 100,000 workers in 2013, (the stated WorkSafe NZ target), to 6.3 in 2023.

Economist and report author Shamubeel Eaqub told Morning Report New Zealand did not seem to be as serious about health and safety as Australia and the UK, despite our rules and regulations being similar.

While New Zealand was trying to improve, the strategies for doing this needed to be pushed along faster, he said.

"We're not holding ourself accountable enough and where things are not working, we can't improve."

Eaqub said a really strong strategy was needed as was more inspectors.

"The number of inspectors in New Zealand relative to our work hasn't been even where WorkSafe wants it to be and we really need to invest in those really specific resources because we have to be out there making sure that our businesses know that there is accountability, that there is oversight, that if they do bad things they will be found out.

"If they're not sufficiently resourced, we know that risk of being caught out is too low."

Changes in behaviour and accountability were needed, he said.

"The regulations already exist and businesses were spending enormous amounts of resources in doing health and safety, the problem is we're not getting sufficiently better outcomes.

"I think there's something fundamentally wrong in New Zealand where we don't prioritise health and safety enough, or take it seriously enough."

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