Forestry, agriculture, construction deaths are nearly all avoidable

Forestry, agriculture, construction deaths are nearly all avoidable


Wayne Scott: “The stark alternative is that many Kiwis are becoming increasingly irritated as their new roads, homes and developments are endlessly delayed…”

Every week this year on average, one or more New Zealand workers are likely to die in a workplace accident. Wayne Scott, chief executive of MinEx, the mining sector’s health and safety organisation, is holding workshops in Nelson, Blenheim and Greymouth next month to help reduce the toll.

OPINION: America’s latest gun tragedy where a six-year-old shot his teacher will further confirm for many Kiwis the insane nature of that nation’s tolerance for firearms.

Yet our acceptance of workplace injuries and harm has its parallels with American society’s willingness to have more guns than people and therefore live with gun violence.

I have worked in Australia for 30 years including in health and safety roles; if someone dies in a workplace there, it is a big problem; in New Zealand we tend to think – ‘sh*t happens’ – and move on.

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Our worst examples of this are the ongoing death rates among agricultural, forestry and construction workers in preventable accidents.

While losing at least one worker a week in a workplace is bad, it unfortunately only reflects a fraction of the tragedy of our misplaced tolerance.

This year, 750 or more Kiwis are likely to die from work-related illnesses; that’s 15 times more than will die from an injury at work. It’s also about twice our annual road toll that we spend huge budgets on reducing. Our already stretched hospital system can expect to receive 100 people each week due to work-related ill health.

These poor souls will suffer from a variety of illnesses caused in their workplaces, including musculoskeletal damage, cancer, respiratory damage and mental health issues.


For Michael Dixon (Ngāpuhi), the fear of bringing what can’t work after a spate of workplace injuries left him stranded – until he discovered rongoā Māori.

As much as America needs gun control, we need to end the toll of workplace injuries and health damage. The starting point is to understand that virtually all deaths and injuries caused in workplaces are avoidable.

Every year I hold workshops in 16 regions across the country to help managers and workers understand how they can achieve this. This year we start the one-day workshops in Nelson on 13 February, in Blenheim the following day and in Greymouth on 16 February. A representative from WorkSafe is among the speakers.

While these workshops are aimed at the mining sector, the learnings are applicable to any business that uses heavy earthmoving machinery. So civil contractors, farmers, foresters, pool installers, drainage filers, builders… Everyone is welcome and it can be the first step to prevent another fatal event or serious damage.


Wayne Scott talks about health and safety.

We look at how employers can avoid or minimize the health impacts of dust and noise, of slipping, tripping and falling. There will also be a focus on how to ensure that procedures designed to protect workers are followed. A significant number of workplace accidents are the result of workers failing to use safety devices such as seat belts, exceeding posted speed limits or removing protective guards.

There is also a session on diversity and respect in the workplace. This can be quite confronting for some people who think that a cute culture is still acceptable in the second decade of the 21st century. Not only is it inappropriate to mistreat women and others, such behavior fails to recognize the vital need to recruit a wider variety of people into what have often been traditionally male workplaces.

We are in the midst of a global labor crisis and no amount of swinging open the immigration doors can fill the shortages.

Not long before Christmas, a report identified that our manufacturing and engineering sector alone could be short 40,000 workers within five years.


In April, the deaths of two dock workers in less than a week sparked a major inquiry into safety at New Zealand ports.

The report for the sectors’ Workforce Development Council Hanga-Aro-Rau saw opportunities to increase the number of women and seniors in the manufacturing and engineering workforce if barriers to developing an equitable domestic workforce could be reduced.

Our mining sector currently only has about 1 female worker for every 6 or 7 males. Like many other industries, we need to make women feel safe and valued in our workplaces. Protecting them from injury is just the beginning.

The annual MinEx health and safety workshops start at 8am at The Hotel Nelson on 13 February. Register here for any of the 16 regional workshops or see the MinEx website.

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