by Denise Roche
Health and Safety at work
In the last few weeks five different companies have been convicted in District Courts in Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton, Waitakere and Christchurch for failing to keep their staff safe at work. Four workers were badly injured and one died while they were on the job.
In the mining industry in the last month we have also seen Spring Creek mine shut down because of falling coal seriously injuring a miner and 28 Waihi Gold mine workers were trapped underground for several hours after a truck caught fire. To add to this month’s appalling health and safety litany a 16 year old construction worker is still in hospital after falling off a construction site at Auckland’s AUT and a contractor at an Upper Hutt water treatment plant suffered serious burns in an explosion.
What’s going on with workplace Health and Safety?
It is great that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (which has replaced the Department of Labour) is prosecuting employers for the injuries that have already happened but no worker goes to work in the morning expecting to be harmed or kicked on the job. What is happening about prevention?
In the wake of the Pike River mining disaster the government introduced the High Hazards unit to monitor mines especially – and it does look like they are being effective in this area. But what about other workers?
In a hefty 2008 technical report from the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee called The Evolving Work Environment in New Zealand. Implications for Workplace Health and Safety. (NOHSAC Technical report 10, 2008) they identify that the move to casualised and precarious employment leads to increased risks at work. Early on they say that one of the prime Occupational Health and Safety challenges is…
“Increased risks arising from poorer training, shorter employment tenures and lower propensity to report adverse events amongst employees engaged in precarious work arrangements. These arrangements are often associated with risk shifting, manifested in newly outsourced and supply chain arrangements.”
Invariably employers want to spend less on their labour costs – that’s why they’ve contracted out their workforce or casualised it in the first place – and that means that training for health and safety slips. This is one of the main concerns of port workers – and those concerns are borne out if you compare the safety records of the Ports of Tauranga (highly causalised workforce) to the Ports of Auckland (highly unionised and high rate of permanent workers.)
In the next few months the government is set to introduce a raft of anti-union and anti-worker legislation which will reduce workers rights around negotiation. In this type of environment accident prevention and health and safety at work are jepodised because raising objections at work can easily become a job-threatening activity for workers.
In March 2012 the Department of Labour (as it was then) published a research paper called In Harms Way: A case Study of Pacific Workers in Manukau Manufacturing and in the conclusions of their 81 page report they that state:
“Unions have a positive impact on the levels of reporting and the attitudes to health and safety within a workplace. Employers reported that unions have the role of spreading health and safety messages to staff and ensuring standards are maintained by employers”.
Basically the best way to stay safe at work is to get a job on a unionised site.