How to Reduce Workplace Fatalities and Injuries

Rob Stock's excellent article in the most recent edition of the "Sunday Star" highlights an issue which has long troubled many people.  English: Industrial programmer's workplace

The statistics are frightening, terrible, and an affront to the community.

Rob describes the  number of work-related casualties in terms of filling "Eden Park four times" in a reference lifted from a discussion paper on the subject. This is a desperate situation and the task force which has been set up under the Chairmanship of Rob Jager is long overdue.

New Zealand's track record in workplace casualties is worse than in Australia and the U.K., and I'd like to suggest one possibility in reducing these awful statistics.

But first, a little more on the task force.

As you can see from Rob's article, it's brief is to develop a raft of solutions to the problem by April 2013. But here's the rub - it cannot take into consideration the future of ACC  - which must inevitably leave the task-force hamstrung.

While there's widespread recognition of the benefits of having ACC - despite the recent privacy issues - the cushioning the effect of industrial injury should surely be part of the task-force remit.

Coming from the U.K., as both Rob Stock and the Laird can claim, we were brought up in an an environment where workplace health and safety was fashioned by successive post-war governments. The principle architect of the immediate post-war era was Lord Beveridge, and, amongst other measures, his Lordship introduced the concept of compulsory employers liability insurance for all limited liability companies of whatever scale, scope, or dimension.

While I can hear Rodney Hide and John Banks whingeing about 'nanny state' intrusion, and dribbling on about 'reds under the bed', this single piece of legislation has done more than any fines, penalties, or regulatory oversight in keeping the industrial death and injury statistics in check in the U.K.

But why should this be, I hear you ask - well, here's a few reasons born of  over 60 years of British experience since the Act was introduced in 1948.

  • The requirement for Employer's Liability insurance cover is universal - no anti-selection risk, i.e. not just high risk organisations are covered, every company must carry cover, therefore the cost of insuring the risk is spread.
  • The effect of this universality is to make purchasing this cover inexpensive for low-risk occupations - clerical, administrative, and supervisory - but more expensive for the likes of Mining and Demolition Companies. Each organisation bears its share of the cost relative to the risk posed.
  • Industries and occupations are rated according to risk exposure, claims experience, and - here's the kicker - the measures undertaken by the employer to minimise casualties in their workplace environment. More measures means reduced costs.
  • Private enterprise has proved to be both efficient and innovative at delivering positive results in the U.K. in this area, far more so than a library full of Occupation Health  Safety regulations. The incentive on both insurers and insured client companies to maximise health and safety and to minimise injuries and fatalities is financial, reputational, and commercial - a strong and compelling combination for any Board of Directors.
  • The insurance industry players, recognising that it is in their interests to promote health and safety at work for clients and their employees, offer a (usually) free consultative service to help employers achieve better outcomes in the safety at work initiative. This competition for client business has driven the insurance companies to develop awareness and expertise which is made available to all client companies, and in turn, improves the health and safety records of those companies, which reduces claims, drives down premiums etc., etc.

While these are by no means the only pointers to the better track record in Britain, they do suggest that NZ should contemplate the responsibility being placed on the corporate entity rather than on individual office-holders within the corporate structure.

In closing, may the Laird offer wishes for every success and the very best of British good luck to Rob Jager and his task-force.

The Laird of Albany