Health and Safety Act fails to reduce work fatalities

After the Pike River tragedy, New Zealanders realised that workplace health and safety culture needed to change. Last Saturday marked the 6th anniversary of the tragedy that killed 29 miners at the Pike River mine on the West Coast of the South Island. Six years on, the battle to improve our health and safety continues, with far too many people still dying at work.

The appalling health and safety at Pike River has been well traversed by the Royal Commission that looked at the systemic failures, and yet still there has been no one charged with the deaths of the 29 men.  The bodies of these men still lie in the mine, despite initial assurances from the Prime Minister that the Government would do everything in their power to recover their bodies. Now, as the Government moves to seal the mine forever, the families of the Pike River 29 are urging that the drift – the couple of kilometres at the beginning of the mine – be explored. They have evidence and reports from mining experts that say it can safely been done.

John Key’s Government has refused their pleas and the families have been staging protests outside the mine. Ironically enough, last week during question time, the Health and Safety laws that were enacted in the wake of the Pike River mine tragedy – that came into force in April this year – were cited as a reason for not exploring the drift of the mine.

We voted against the health and safety legislation because, while it started out as a promise to change the type of workplace culture that resulted in the Pike River tragedy, the National Government was captured by employer interests. These interests demanded concessions for small workplaces and that meant that staff at these work sites could not independently decide on their health and safety representatives and entire industries with high accident rates were deemed to be low-risk. Our concern was that the bill didn’t go far enough to ensure ordinary working New Zealanders are safe on their jobs. This fear was unfortunately realised with the work fatality figures showing that 43 people have died up to the end of October this year.  This is the same number as the whole of the year before so it’s likely that we will surpass that number by the end of 2016. From the figures, the most dangerous occupation is agriculture. Yet staggeringly, cattle and dairy farms are exempt from the law because they generally employ fewer than 20 staff so they are deemed to be low risk by the Ministry.  

To reach the target of no workplace deaths by 2020, the National Government needs to be a better regulator and enforce the rules; businesses need to put health and safety as their number one priority and all employees need to be empowered to speak up and at the very least to have representation that can do that on their behalf.

Meanwhile, the families of the Pike River mine 29 continue to protest and just today the concrete company providing the seal for the mine have refused to deliver the material. In solidarity.

We stand with them. We Stand with Pike.

Stand With Pike