America tolerates gun deaths — while we tolerate workplace deaths

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MinEx and Aggregate & Quarry Association NZ chief executive officer Wayne Scott.
MinEx and Aggregate & Quarry Association NZ chief executive officer Wayne Scott.

Kiwi “she’ll be right” attitudes are a major factor in New Zealand’s high workplace death rate, and match American tolerance for gun deaths, says the chief executive of a health and safety organisation.

Wayne Scott, who heads the mining and quarrying sector body MinEx, welcomes the recent publication of a report by the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum which identifies Kiwi workplace death rates are twice as high as Australia’s, and four times that of Britain’s.

A big deal

“I worked in Australia for 30 years, including in health and safety roles. If someone dies in a workplace there, it’s a big deal. Here we tend to think ‘sh-t happens’ — and move on.”

Scott says on average, every week this year one or more New Zealanders will likely be killed in a workplace accident.

“Our acceptance of workplace injuries and harm has its comparisons with the preparedness of American society to live with gun violence — and most of us think that’s crazy.”

The worst death rates in preventable accidents occur to workers in the agriculture, forestry and construction sectors.

Scott says the Forum is right to recognise that the number of WorkSafe inspectors has fallen over the past 10 years from its target of 8.4 per 100,000 workers to 6.3.

Not enough regulators

“We have 213 inspectors. That’s one for every 13,200 workers.

“We are seeing in our sector, as in others, that we have plenty of regulations but not enough regulators.”

He says this contributes to the lax approach taken to health and safety in New Zealand, and its high fatality toll in the workplace.

He says while losing at least one worker on average a week in a workplace fatality is bad, it’s a fraction of the 750 or more Kiwis who die annually from illnesses related to their work.

“That’s about twice our annual road toll which we devote huge budgets to reducing.

100 people seeking hospital treatment weekly in NZ

“Our hospital system can also expect to receive 100 people each week suffering from a variety of illnesses caused in their workplaces, including musculoskeletal damage, cancers, respiratory harm and mental health issues.

“As much as America needs gun control, we need to end the toll of workplace injuries and health harm.

“The starting point is understanding that virtually all deaths and harm caused in workplaces is avoidable,” Scott says.

To read the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum, go to https://www.forum.org.nz/assets/Uploads/State-of-a-Thriving-Nation-Aug-2023.pdf.

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