CTU questions workplace injury figures

By Martin Johnston

Statistics NZ data shows fewer ACC claims but union believes they are misleading.

There have been seven fatalities this year in forestry. Photo / Natalie Slade
There have been seven fatalities this year in forestry. Photo / Natalie Slade

More than a quarter of people working in the agriculture and fisheries sector, which includes forestry workers, suffered an injury that was covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation.

The sector accounted for nearly 33,000 of the 180,000 work-related injury claims accepted by ACC last year - including 60 deaths - according to provisional data made public by Statistics NZ.

The data is not comparable with earlier years because of changed definitions, but the 2012 work-related injury rate may, at 93 per 1000 fulltime equivalent workers, be slightly lower than in 2011.

The rate of ACC-approved claims has declined steadily from 129 per 1000 in 2002 to 96 per 1000 in 2011.

But the Council of Trade Unions, which is campaigning for workplace safety improvements, especially in forestry, questions whether the ACC-based figures tell the whole story.

"This is about claims, not injuries or fatalities," said CTU economist and policy director Bill Rosenberg.

"It's affected by how tight the laws are about making a claim and how tight the corporation is about accepting claims."

He said another set of Statistics NZ data - on serious injuries and based on ACC and hospital figures - gave the more important picture. "There's no apparent fall-off in those for work-related injuries. Forestry is a huge part of it. There have been seven fatalities this year in forestry."

Dr Rosenberg said there were uncertainties about international comparisons because of weaknesses of the New Zealand statistics.

"But from what we can see, New Zealand is roughly twice the rate of Australia and several times the rate of the UK in overall workplace injuries and deaths."

The CTU broadly supports the Government's changes in occupational safety and health, which include the new WorkSafe regulatory agency, to be established in December, and the Health and Safety at Work Bill, to be introduced to Parliament in the same month. The bill would more than double the maximum jail term for the most serious breaches of workplace safety law, to five years.

The ACC-based statistics show that, by industry, the arts and recreation services sector had the second-highest rate of work-related injuries.

A Statistics NZ spokesman said, "Professional sports people do appear to have an effect on the high incidence rate for the arts and recreational services industry. In 2012, 'sportspersons and related workers' accounted for 36 per cent of claims made in the arts and recreation industry."

By occupation, the lowest rate was among clerks. Also at the lower end of this scale were "professionals"; legislators, administrators and managers; technicians and associate professionals; and service and sales workers.

By region, Northland and Gisborne/Hawkes Bay had the highest rates, Wellington the lowest and Auckland the second-lowest.

Riskiest jobs
Rate of work-related injury claims, per 1000 fulltime equivalent workers in each sector in 2012, that were granted accident compensation cover
252 Agriculture, forestry and fishery workers
185 Trades workers
158 Labourers and other workers in "elementary'' occupations
153 Plant and machine operators and assemblers
93 Overall

- NZ Herald

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