Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

NZ troops more at risk at home than abroad

Official figures show Afghanistan most hazardous overseas posting for personnel.

Defence Force figures show sprains and strains as the most common injury for personnel.  Photo / Alan Gibson
Defence Force figures show sprains and strains as the most common injury for personnel. Photo / Alan Gibson

New Zealand Defence Force staff have been injured hundreds of times in foreign postings in the past few years, but an official count shows troops are more likely to be hurt at home.

Of more than 3500 injuries recorded between January 2011 and May 2012, 269 were suffered overseas, according to figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act.

Afghanistan accounted for the most injuries sustained overseas in that period, with 138 injuries among 432 staff posted, followed by 90 injuries in Timor Leste, 40 in the Solomon Islands and one in Dubai.

No injuries were recorded among the Defence Force's other overseas postings in Australia, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Korea, Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said it was usual for work-related injury rates to be higher on operational deployments, as personnel were classified as at work 24 hours a day.

Most injuries were minor, although the figures did not include personnel on overseas exercises, postings or secondments, but covered injuries sustained during physical training, playing sport and "work or other".

Before two members of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team were killed in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Province during the weekend, five serving New Zealanders had died in the country since January 2011.

At least 2827 injuries were recorded last year and at least 716 in the first half of this year.

A breakdown showed the most common injuries were sprains and strains (2190) followed by bruises (337), "non-infected superficial" injuries (254), fractures (219) and dislocations and RSI type injuries, with 92 cases each.

There were 77 cases of hearing loss, 62 dental issues, 48 burns and 20 concussions, while 25 cases were listed as foreign bodies and eight as adverse effects to toxins.

Mr Jones said the development of a comprehensive injury prevention and management policy was under way as part of the Defence Health Programme.

"The principle of prevention is to ensure that an individual has sufficient endurance, strength and flexibility to undertake an activity without increased risk of injury, whether through impact or internal disruption, and to control the environment to make the activity as safe as possible," he said.

Each service had physical fitness standards based on common highly physical activities faced by each, including fire-fighting on a ship and carrying packs in the field.

Standards changed when working environments did and new "exceptional" activities came with dedicated training programmes and psychological screening.

Work-related NZDF injuries

2008: 2712
2009: 2810
2010: 3022
2011: 2827
2012*: 716
* 2012 figures are to May 25, 2012.

Source: New Zealand Defence Force.

- NZ Herald

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