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Work injuries costly

By Beckie Wilson

[email protected]

Work-related accidents in Wairarapa led to claims of $2 million last year – down more than $1 million from 2010, the worst year in the past decade.

In 2016, Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) recorded 1385 Wairarapa claims – 554 new claims, and 831 active claims – costing $2,161,429.

This compares to 2010 when there were 1414 claims – 603 new, and 811 active – costing ACC $3,178,323.

WorkSafe figures obtained under the Official Information Act show 40 serious or notifiable workplace injuries were also recorded in the region in 2016, ranging from amputations, serious lacerations and serious head injuries across a variety of industries.

Many took place in traditionally higher risk industries, but those in charge say things are getting better as safety standards and expectations improve.

The figures also reveal 12 workplace deaths in Wairarapa in the past decade, all occurring across four industries: construction, forestry, agriculture and manufacturing.

 

 

Representatives from the most affected industries agree the regional statistics are too high, but say steps have been taken nationally to improve them.

Federated Farmers spokeswoman Katie Milne said an ever-changing environment with the added risk of working alone with animals and machinery were contributing factors to agricultural workplace deaths and injuries.

Farm vehicles, including quad bikes, were one of the highest sources of workplace injuries on farms, but there were things that could be done to avoid “becoming a statistic”, she said.

“The things they can do is around maintenance, tyre pressures, and checking brakes and things like that – they are good common practice.

“There are so many dynamic variables changing day to day you have to be thinking about these things and taking notice, and we are not necessarily good at training ourselves to go over the risk.”

Federated Farmers were working on a system where farmers could anonymously record their near misses and experiences on a public forum for others to read, she said.

This would get farmers thinking about the dangers, and to share ways of combating them.

OnFarm Safety director Bronwyn Muir said most regions around the country had consistent serious harm statistics within industry and farming sectors.

“[Forestry is] a high-risk industry and occupation, working in the bush and forestry will always have a high-risk element and poses a lot of challenges for forestry contractors and business owners around running a profitable business,” she said.

“The farming industry is no different with the added challenge of managing animal health, handling and welfare.”

The industry had come a long way in the past decade around the change in culture of health and safety, she said.

“Unfortunately, this still isn’t really reflected in our statistics and the fatalities and incidents are still happening at a similar rate as you have highlighted.

“By nature, farmers tend to be slightly higher risk takers, this is an ingrained component of our rural culture and often the risk taken backfires and we get hurt – unfortunately sometimes seriously or fatally.”

Forest Industry Safety Council and First Union general secretary Robert Reid said he was “pleased that the injuries and deaths have now been taken seriously in the forestry industry”.

“We were really concerned in the past that it was considered that forestry was an unsafe industry,” Mr Reid said.

“It certainly was our belief that no one should be going to work and feeling that they may not return to their families at the end of the day.”

Since the establishment of the New Zealand Safety Council in 2015, Mr Reid said he could see a change in trends and believed the industry was “on the right track” in creating a safer working environment.

Safety Council construction spokesman Martin Riding said to improve workplace statistics, sharing information and being honest about health and safety was crucial.

“If you look at it from a national scale, New Zealand has one of the worst health and safety records in any developed country in the world.

“To an extent, it is the New Zealand culture, but it’s merely a change in thinking.”

The Safety Council now offers a ‘check card’ scheme offering a way for employers and employees to check their competency on safety knowledge.

Rather than recording how many people were getting hurt, the scheme looked at where the injuries were happening, Mr Riding said.

WorkSafe’s agriculture programme manager Al McCone said the numbers of injuries and deaths in the agricultural sector remained too high.

“But the sector as a whole has a renewed awareness and focus on safety following the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015).”

WorkSafe is working with the construction, forestry and manufacturing sectors to improve safety.

 

Safety improving

 

Over 30 years in the field, Wellington Free intensive care paramedic Hank Bader has “seen it all”, but says there has been an overall improvement in workplace safety over the last decade.

Mr Bader has been to “quite a few” workplace incidents in the region, “but I think what we are seeing today compared to 10 years ago, people are quite vigilant about workplace safety”.

Mr Bader moved to Wairarapa five years ago, after a 36-year stint in the South Island.

In that time, he has noticed a change in attitude towards workplace safety, with more people taking precautions and following protocols.

“I have been to a few forestry incidents over the time I have been here and you are dealing with quite significant injuries with those due to the environment they’re working in,” he said.

“People get hurt, that’s not necessarily a fault of their own, it’s the result of the type of industry they are in.”

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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