A campaign called Stand Up Be Safe has been launched by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), encouraging workers to take responsibility for health and safety in the workplace.

Fritz Drissner, EPMU health and safety co-ordinator, visited Wanganui this week to talk about the issues with local businesses, and said the union wanted workers, and management to be proactive about safety.

Mr Drissner, on a tour of the country, visited Tenix, Transfield, Axiam Plastics and Axiam Metals before heading to South Taranaki.

His talks were open to union, non-union and management staff alike.


"Having adequate health and safety standards is in everyone's best interests," he said.

Mr Drissner said the most dangerous occupation in Wanganui was forestry, but the forestry industry as a whole was unwilling to engage with unions.

"In New Zealand this year there has been one forestry death per month, and that is far too many. They have their own health and safety code and, unfortunately, there was no union input into that."

Mr Drissner said industry self-regulation did not work. "Pike River showed that. We need the Government to set health and safety standards and to enforce them."

Wanganui EPMU organiser Colin Webster said some workplaces in the city were pro-active, but some took advantage of the fact that they were self-regulated.

"I'm seeing a lot of workers who are frustrated by the lack of concern for health and safety in their workplaces."

Mr Drissner welcomed the independent taskforce report into health and safety, which was released this week.

Initiated by the former Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, the report came out of the Pike River disaster and found "significant weaknesses" in health and safety laws. It recommended reforms, including a new regulatory agency, and called for an urgent review into the forestry industry.

Forestry, agriculture, fishing, construction and manufacturing are responsible for more than half of all workplace injury claims, with government records showing 40 workplace deaths last year.

Employers and Manufacturers Association spokesman Paul Jarvie said too many employees died from diseases picked up in the workplace.

The taskforce report stated "occupational illness cases" resulted in 500 to 800 premature deaths a year however, Mr Jarvie said a recommendation to increase penalties for organisations with poor health and safety performance, including extending the manslaughter offence to corporations, was unlikely to fix NZ's poor workplace record.