Labour Minister Margaret Wilson and CPHR Director
Professor Neil Pearce.
Work-related injury targeted
A Symposium on Priorities in Occupational Health
and Safety last week provided an opportunity for key players within the
research, policy development and implementation sectors to discuss co-operation
to improve New Zealand’s poor track record in work-related injury
The symposium was organised by the University’s Centre for Public
Health Research, in partnership with Occupational Safety and Health.
At the Museum Building venue, public servants, university researchers,
politicians, unions, employers and international experts pooled their
knowledge in advance of the Government’s contentious Health and
Safety in Employment Amendment Bill.
Labour Minister Margaret Wilson – who first complimented Centre
Director Professor Neil Pearce for developing a programme covering such
important topics – spoke of the Bill’s principles of good
faith, consultation and partnership, a move away from the present adversarial
and litigious approach.
“We are fighting against a culture in which death in the workplace
is not seen as being as culpable as a death in other situations like the
Ms Wilson said existing legislation has been watered down within the “intensely
democratic process” that is Parliament, and didn’t go far
enough to encourage a strong culture of workplace safety.
She promised comprehensive coverage of all workplaces, full participation
involving co-operation between employers and employees, and a range of
appropriate enforcement tools that demonstrate the “seriousness
with which human life and well-being should be taken in the workplace”.
She also noted a lack of accurate data on what is causing workplace fatalities.
“We are taking steps to address this lack of knowledge, so proactive
prevention can be targeted intelligently.”
The Minister has previously indicated her need for policy developers to
anchor their recommendations in research-based data. Various speakers
at the symposium highlighted the dearth of accurate information, several
describing ways in which gaps are being filled. These projects include
the OSH Occupational Cancer Register and the HRC/OSH/ACC Joint Research
Portfolio on occupational health and safety.
Wellington School of Medicine researcher Dr Phillippa Gander described
how legislative changes covering stress and fatigue would impact on the
workplace. Case studies and surveys have already revealed the significance
of the problem, including lack of sleep and fatigue-related errors. Dr
Gander said workplace fatigue is a complex problem and mounting a comprehensive
preventative programme will be difficult because most small businesses
cannot afford it.
Dunedin School of Medicine researcher Dr John Langley spoke of the “poor
job” being done in identifying workplace fatalities. His study over
1985-94 revealed 820 deaths. The OSH figure for the same period was 327,
while ACC recorded 513. Work related traffic fatalities could be as high
as 40 percent of all workplace deaths, but are not being recorded. No
common database exists.
Keynote speaker Professor Jorma Rantanen, the director of the Finnish
Institute of Occupational Health, noted that while Finland is often held
up to New Zealand as an example in economic development, this has been
achieved in conjunction with a proactive position on occupational health
and safety. He said major corporations now control 50 percent of the world
economy and the “social dimension” of those global operations
has become a critical issue. He also drew attention to the implications
of the global trend towards ageing workforces and the consequent challenges
for the occupational health sector.