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World Safety Day puts spotlight on work health and safety

24th April 2019

World Safety Day puts spotlight on larger work health and safety issues

World Safety Day is on Sunday 28th April, and is a reminder of the bad start New Zealand’s had to 2019 with 22 workplace fatalities in the first three months of 2019, compared to 9 in the first quarter of 2018.

However, these statistics disguise an even larger problem of 600-900 work related deaths from health exposures annually, and a growing road toll with an estimated third of the 379 road deaths last year involving people who were working at the time.

According to Worksafe’s regularly updated fatalities summary report, 42 people lost their lives in work-related incidents in 2018, the lowest level for five years. However, New Zealand still sits in the lowest quartile of OECD countries, with numbers of deaths per 100,000 workers up to five times that of the UK.

If you include statistics for people who have died after being exposed to health risks at work, and while driving when working, the statistics could balloon to over 1,000 fatalities per year.

Greg Dearsly, President of the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM), says World Safety Day is another opportunity to put the spotlight on the true extent of work related health and safety incidents in New Zealand:

“Our current statistics do not represent the total problem,” he says. “While all countries report in the same way we should be looking at the wider problem and tackle three areas: workplace safety to protect workers from accidents, workplace health to address long term risks and issues and work related driver safety.

“Accidents at work grab headlines and sadly our statistics are still high compared to other OECD countries, so we need to continue our strong efforts to reduce them.

“But at the same time more attention needs to be put on work health issues, and if driving is part of any worker’s role, their employer should be involved in helping that person be a safer driver. Just having a driver’s license is not an indicator of how safe anyone will be when driving.”

Of all the work related health deaths in New Zealand around a third are cancers related to past exposure to asbestos; around 170 people die each year in New Zealand of asbestosis with predictions this will grow and peak between 2030 and 2040.

Silicosis, a lung and respiratory disease related to inhaling dust containing silica and usually associated with the construction industry, is the second biggest killer, along with exposure to other hazardous substances and fertilizers. Cardio-vascular disease is another significant issue.

Driving related deaths while working are not usually included in workplace fatality statistics but with an estimated third of these being people who died while working, about an additional 120 fatalities could be added, based on the country's 2018 statistics.

World Safety Day is an initiative of the International Labour Organisations (ILO) and was established to encourage remembrance and reflection on those who have lost their lives or been injured at work.

The NZISM is the professional organisation responsible for raising competence and providing accreditation for health and safety practitioners in New Zealand.

It is the largest and most established independent New Zealand health and safety professional association. Founded almost 40 years ago it has 13 branches, more than 1600 members made up of professionals and practitioners working across a broad range of industries and sectors, and over 60 corporate supporters.


For further information about the NZISM please visit:

References: a-and-research/ws-data/fatalities/workplace-fatalities-summary/

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