Workplace injuries top $20 billion a year

A new report quantifies the economic and social costs of workplace-related diseases and injuries in New Zealand and indicates they are up to four times higher than previous estimates.

Commissioned by the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee, the report considers a number of previous studies and analyses all new cases of occupational disease and injury between March 2004 and March 2005.

It estimates that the full economic and social costs of occupational diseases and injury total $20.9 billion a year, comprising $4.9 billion in financial costs and $16 billion in the costs of suffering and premature death. It also estimates that only 2 per cent of the total costs are compensated by organisations such as ACC and the Ministry of Social Development.

Reports like these are powerful tools for shaping the future of our efforts to reduce workplace diseases and injuries, says committee Chairman Professor Neil Pearce. Professor Pearce is director of the Centre for Public Health Research.

By looking at the whole costs rather than those covered by compensation alone and where they are incurred, we can make informed policy and practice decisions and deliver appropriate programmes and long-term benefits to the people of New Zealand.

The report categorises financial costs into six groups, with the most important being human capital costs (the lost productive capacity of a worker until retirement age), which are valued at $3.05 billion a year.

Next are health and rehabilitation costs at $694 million, production disturbance costs at $573 million, transfer costs at $238 million and administration costs at $55 million. Other costs (such as those for carers and aides, equipment and home modifications) total $293 million.

These huge financial costs are being borne by and impacting upon employers, employees and society, says Professor Pearce. And of course the effects are much more than financial there are often significant and long-term social consequences for the injured and sick people and for their families, workplaces and communities and further down the track, the health system, the Government and the economy.

We must address these costs, and soon. Every year between 700 and 1000 people die from occupational disease and 100 people die from occupational injury. We also see up to 20,000 cases of new work-related diseases, and about 200,000 work-related injuries that result in claims to ACC. This is a huge and unacceptable burden for New Zealand to bear.

The report is an excellent snapshot of the current state of play, says Professor Pearce. We intend using it to work with others to develop strategies aimed at keeping our workers and our workplaces safe, healthy and productive. I urge policy analysts, researchers and health and safety professionals to read it not only does it provide insights into the huge costs of workplace diseases and injuries, it provides some clear directions for action.

The report is available at www.nohsac.govt.nz

Created: 8 May, 2006

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