Workers seek extra safety input

By Lydia Anderson


Stronger penalties for workplace health and safety offences are being welcomed as "partial deterrents" by a Tauranga union.

But Mount Maunganui Tauranga Maritime Union president Peter Harvey said workers need more of a voice. "Workers ... know the most about what they do and the hazards they face."

His comments follow the announcement of major health and safety reforms stemming from the Pike River disaster, which were unveiled by Labour Minister Simon Bridges yesterday.

The Government's new Working Safer reform package would introduce stronger penalties and court powers for health and safety offences, but do not introduce a corporate manslaughter charge.

Workplace accidents in the Bay of Plenty sparked 319 serious harm notifications to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment in 2012. Nationally, 40 workers were killed on the job last year, including one in Western Bay when an agricultural worker suffered fatal head injuries working on a sprayer unit.

This year, two Bay companies were ordered to pay a total of $85,000 in fines and reparation after a 41-year-old Tauranga man's foot was severed by a winch wire rope at the port last October.

The companies both admitted failing to take all practicable steps to safeguard the victim while he used winch equipment to wind covers on to a stack of logs.

Mr Harvey said the penalties were like "an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff".

"I'd advocate a greater empowerment of workers to protect themselves, a far better well-resourced and empowered labour inspectorate."

He remained supportive of a corporate manslaughter charge being introduced.

Under the reforms, a person who engages in reckless conduct putting a worker at risk of injury or death would face a maximum penalty of $600,000 or five years' imprisonment, or both, or $3 million for a company.

At present, the penalties for this offence are $500,000 or two years' imprisonment, or both.

Port of Tauranga acting chief executive Sara Lunam said the changes were expected.

"Safety is at the core of the way we do business and operate our port."

Ms Lunam said the port supported the introduction of the reforms. The package was a response to recommendations of an independent taskforce on workplace health and safety, which followed the deaths of 29 men in the 2010 Pike River coal mine disaster.

Commenting on the reforms, Mr Bridges said: "This is the legacy we owe to the Pike River families, the families of the 75 people who are killed each year in New Zealand workplaces, and the estimated 600 to 900 who die annually from the long-term effects of occupational disease."

The changes included a new regulator, Worksafe New Zealand, which would target high-risk sectors.

The reforms were welcomed by business and unions. Business New Zealand head Phil O'Reilly said it was a significant step in the right direction.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly welcomed proposals to include workers more in health and safety discussions and to strengthen the roles of health and safety representatives.

By the numbers

  • 319 Bay of Plenty serious harm notifications in 2012

  • 1 Western Bay workplace fatality

  • 40 national workplace fatalities


- Bay of Plenty Times

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