I’m on the West Coast today with Damien O’Connor talking about the high rate of death and injury in New Zealand workplaces, and what Labour intends to do about it.
We announced our policy on mine safety back in August, where we will re-regulate the industry along the lines of the Queensland system, and reinstate check inspectors.
But this is not just about Pike River Mine, awful though that was. The loss of life in the Onehunga Gas explosion, the Tamahere Coolfire and the fact that 85 New Zealand workers lost their lives last year in workplace accidents is a real wake-up call. Then there’s the nearly 500 extremely serious injuries and the tens of thousands of other workplace injury claims every year.
For every person who is killed or injured at work the loss and impact on families, workmates and friends are enormous, but why don’t we talk about it? Not only does it cost families, but it costs New Zealanders in health, ACC, and productivity.
While there’s been improvement in workplace technology, safer machinery and equipment and greater employee involvement in workplace health and safety following Labour’s amendments to the Health and Safety in Employment Act, New Zealand’s workplace accident rate remains far too high. Our system of self-regulation is falling short and recent funding cuts to key health and safety inspectorate positions and training of health and safety reps means even less oversight of the limited regulations we do have.
There needs to be a fundamental change in how we approach workplace health and safety. It has to be more than just a ‘tick-box’ exercise for employers. It must become part of our everyday thinking and consciousness in the same way the road toll is talked about, campaigned on and targeted for real improvements.
Labour’s Health and Safety policy, released today, is about elevating public awareness and responsiveness around workplace deaths and injuries to where it gets the attention it deserves.
We will establish a Commission of Inquiry into New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety, who will examine why New Zealand’s record of workplace accidents and injuries is not improving, what measures are needed to improve them, how other comparable countries are able to have a lower per worker rate of injury and death and how any changes should be implemented.
This could mean moving to a regulatory framework where legislated standards are required, but as a minimum, worker participation, involvement of trained health and safety representatives and effective enforcement in the workplace will be fundamental to any change.
We will also ensure that any regulatory framework provides for a properly resourced occupational health and safety inspectorate that has the technical expertise to enforce the legislative requirements.
Bottom line. Self regulation isn’t working. If that takes more prescriptive legislation, Labour will do it.
Something has to change.