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Researchers seeks answers to summer fatality rise

16 October 2006

Researchers seeks answers to summer rise in fatalities

A Sydney-based research company has been selected to analyse why there is an apparent increase in workplace fatalities during New Zealand’s summer months.

Human Engineering Ltd has been contracted by the Department of Labour to analyse data and information gained from interviews with key sector groups to help identify seasonal work trends and their relationship to summer fatalities.

Over the past five years, the Department’s health and safety service has investigated, on average, six or seven deaths every December and January, including 10 fatalities over a horror three-week period this past summer.

This compares to an average during the whole five year period of around five deaths a month, and an average of four fatalities in the winter months. The average number of workplace deaths in mid-winter is two.

The number of serious harm notifications the Department receives also appears to be consistently higher during the months of December to March. The number of notifications during the four summer months over the last five years is, on average, 101 a month, compared with an average of 80 a month during the wintertime.

The reason for this higher seasonal incidence is not entirely clear, acting chief advisor safe and healthy workplaces Bob Hill says.

“The deaths occur in a range of industries, although farming activity and industrial and commercial work contribute significantly to the summer-time fatalities.”

The most obvious common features were crushing injuries associated with either a vehicle or other item of mobile plant, but these also occurred at other times of the year, Mr Hill said.

“We know there is a higher incidence of workplace fatalities during summer, which is often put down to longer daylight hours and more opportunity for outside work.

“What we don’t know is whether this is just a ‘blip’, or if there is some statistical significance to the apparently higher incidence of summer fatalities.”

Mr Hill said the Department had engaged Human Engineering Ltd to research the phenomenon, using the Department’s workplace fatality records, ACC data, and information from industry and union groups.

Researchers met with the Department and key industry representatives earlier this month to start to get a handle on the issue, and Mr Hill said the project was expected to be completed by the end of 2006.

“The aim of the research is to not just identify the causative factors, but to look at possible initiatives to reduce the summer toll.”

Sixty-five people died in workplace accidents investigated by the Department in the year ending June 2006, compared with 47 in 2004-05, 62 in 2003-04 and 73 in both 2002-03 and 2001-02.

Mr Hill said government and employer and worker groups have committed to work together on a nationwide workplace health and safety strategy, aimed at making permanent improvements in health and safety.

“Improving health and safety not only makes workplaces safer for staff and saves lives, but also has very attractive business benefits. Businesses should view good health and safety systems not as a cost or impediment but as an investment,” he said.

“The death or injury of a worker can have a massive financial cost, including possible fines, the loss of productivity through lost skills and experience, and negative effects on the wider workforce.

“The loss of loved ones, the suffering of family and friends, and the wider social impacts are immeasurable, which is why the Department is determined to use this research as a way of reducing the death toll in our workplaces.”

To the journalist: please note that health and safety services formerly referred to as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) should now be referred to as the Department of Labour.


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