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Planning For The Worst Case Scenario

While most of us rarely give much thought to workplace deaths in New Zealand until they hit the headlines, closely examining the data for the past 10 years is a sobering exercise.

In the agriculture industry alone, WorkSafe recorded 17 workers being killed on the job just in the last year. Since 2014 between nine and 23 workers in this sector have died annually in the course of doing their jobs.

Industries like forestry and construction are just as bad and recent deaths at both the Auckland port and the inland port during a tornado show highlight the scale of the problem.

This is a massive issue and it isn’t going away any time soon. In these cases it’s almost always young men with young families left behind.

Should all ‘front line workers’ be given a Will?

Footprint NZ Chief Executive Angela Vale thinks this is the minimum that should be done to protect those who are protecting us.

“It is not just workplace health and safety that is trending in the wrong direction; we also struggle, as a nation of hard workers, with the idea of planning for our family’s future when it no longer includes us.

“Indeed, with the exception of the New Zealand Defence Force, which partnered with Aon and Footprint to provide Wills and other estate planning services to all staff and members, the state of New Zealand’s high-risk industries (these are often rural and include forestry and logging; fishing, hunting and trapping; agriculture and aquaculture; coal mining; construction; and police and fire services) is very different,” says Vale.

Up to 63% of full-time workers across all industries do not have a Will, and a broad overview from Statista, Figure.nz, Fire and Emergency, and careers.govt.nz shows that around 120,000 people are employed in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry; 14,000 in NZ Police and around 1,800 career firefighters and 11,800 volunteers; at least 170,000 in construction; and 576 people are still working in mining.

“If nearly two-thirds of these (and other) high-risk workers are unprotected by a Will and estate plan, including orders of guardianship for minor children, the flow-on risk to their families is enough to make you shudder,” warns Vale.

“Notably, as the pandemic taught us, some of those facing the greatest workplace danger are those in the healthcare sector, who may take the risk of being exposed to life-threatening pathogens in the course of doing their jobs. They should be treated as high-risk workers too.

“The absence of protection afforded by estate planning places disproportionate risk on the unprotected families of these workers. Not only are workers in more danger in an average day than urban employees in office, retail and hospitality spaces, they are by virtue of their professions less likely to have engaged with standard estate planning services than, say, white-collar workers, who are typically more exposed to financial and fiduciary planning as a natural consequence of their professional activities.”

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff says death and injury should not be accepted as the natural cost of doing business, and the best employers who take care of their staff should be showcased.

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