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Workplace deaths highlight need for job safety

MEDIA RELEASE 28 August 2008

Recent Workplace deaths highlight the need for businesses to take action on job safety

Too many New Zealand businesses have experienced workplace fatalities, the Department of Labour said today. "Nobody should die from doing their job," the department's head of workplace health and safety Craig Armitage said.

"These deaths have taken a huge human and financial toll on the victims, and their families, friends, and workmates, as well as on those businesses and on the New Zealand economy. They are a grim reminder of how important it is for all businesses – big and small – and workers to make basic investments to keep people safe at work."

Mr Armitage said a disturbing number of workplace deaths happen in sectors where small businesses predominate, such as in the agriculture industry. Of the 53 workplace deaths investigated by the department in the 12 months to the end of June, 20 occurred in the agricultural sector. "When the department looks at our recent investigations in this area, many of these deaths involved rollovers by either all terrain vehicles (quad bikes) or tractors, which emphasises the need for extra vigilance around farm vehicles." The department investigated nine deaths in the construction sector, showing there is still work to do to manage potentially lethal risks such as workers falling from heights, he said.

Two investigations involved the forestry industry, and the remaining 22 were in the broad industrial and commercial sector. Mr Armitage said that while safety and health at individual workplaces is ultimately the responsibility of business owners, managers and workers, the department has developed tools and information to help businesses – particularly small businesses - actively manage their health and safety risks. These include a free online tool launched by Labour Minister Trevor Mallard this week.

The Hazard Handler tool, available on the Department of Labour's website, has practical information on how to identify and manage general and industry-specific health and safety hazards. Small businesses can download their work and use it to keep track of workplace hazards, their safety systems and staff health and safety training. As an added bonus, small businesses in certain industries can also use the Hazard Handler to apply for the ACC Workplace Safety Discounts programme which provides a discount on their ACC levies.

"I would urge owners and employers in small businesses to try out our Hazard Handler," Mr Armitage said. "It's a small investment of their time, but the time will be well spent because it could save somebody's life – possibly their own. This tool makes it easy to start – so there is no excuse not to." Editor's note Hazard Handler: The Hazard Handler enables small businesses to build a customised hazard register. Identifying and managing hazards is a key requirement of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and creating and maintaining a hazard register is a good way to do that. It shows people what they need to do to manage hazards in their workplace and is the first step towards installing a health and safety system. Users can then download a personalised Hazard Register recording all the useful information provided during the assessment. The Hazard Handler is available at

Fatality figures: The fatality figures in this release only cover workplace deaths investigated by the Department of Labour. They do not include fatalities in the Maritime or Aviation sectors, or fatalities due to work-related crashes on the road as these are investigated by Maritime New Zealand, the Civil Aviation Authority and the NZ Police respectively. They do not include fatalities from long latency diseases caused by exposure to hazardous substances.

Official Statistics on deaths and injuries in New Zealand generally and in the workplace in particular are available on the Statistics New Zealand website.


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