7 Aug 2015

Family joins workplace safety protest after tragedy

2:59 pm on 7 August 2015

A New Plymouth family has added their voice to growing protests over the watering down of new workplace safety legislation.

Michael Kane's family.

Photo: Simon Oosterman

Michael Kane was 33 when he died after falling from a work platform and hitting his head in 2012.

His family held a vigil outside the Len Lye Centre today, where 297 white crosses represented workers who have died on the job since the Pike River disaster.

Mr Kane's sister Sarah said a proposed change to the new Health and Safety Reform Bill - removing the right to have a worker-elected health and safety representative in small companies - was a backward step.

"We are here today just to show people that safety is important and people die in workplace accidents and this is why we need a stronger government to support it. And we're living proof of what can go wrong in the worst case scenario."

Brodie and Sarah Kane

Brodie and Sarah Kane with a photo of Michael Photo: RNZ/ Robin Martin

Sarah Kane said the Government needed to stick to the original bill.

"Small workplaces are not going to have a voluntary health and safety committee happening, so I do think it needs to be enforced.

"It's not about the employers, it's about the employees and having the right to speak out."

Mr Kane was conscious after the accident, but was put in an induced coma due to severe pain and brain swelling.

His family was in the hospital waiting room when doctors announced Michael Kane had severe brain damage and no brain activity.

His sister Sarah said the news was devastating.

"It weakened my legs and put me on my knees," she said.

"We were numb and in shock."

The family brought in Michael's three kids, then aged 3, 5, and 7, to say good-bye to their dad before turning off the life support.

Sarah Kane said the children still did not understand why their dad had not come home from work.

"We feel guilty that we still live, get to enjoy life and see his kids grow, when he can't," she said.

Her brother's death motivated her to become a Health and Safety in Employment co-ordinator, she said.

"I want to ensure this doesn't happen to anyone else," she said. "Health and safety needs to be the first thing people think about before starting a job, just like putting on a seat-belt when you get in a car.

"People do die in the workplace and you hear about somebody on the news dying, and you think 'that won't happen to me' until it happens to someone from your family and it becomes way too much, too close to home."

Michael Kane's family. From left: his partner Carly Gordon, sons Brodie and Riley, sister Sarah, daughter Isabella and his mother Sue.

Michael Kane's family. From left: his partner Carly Gordon, sons Brodie and Riley, sister Sarah, daughter Isabella and his mother Sue. Photo: RNZ/ Robin Martin

Taranaki Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union organiser Jen Natoli said action aimed to highlight concerns with the Government's workplace safety reforms.

"John Key promised Pike River families he'd improve workplace safety laws," she said. "He's broken his promise and succumbed to lobbying by a minority of small businesses to watered-down the Bill."

The controversial Health and Safety Reform Bill passed its second reading last week, 63 votes to 58.

The third and final reading is expected to be held next week.

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