NZ's high workplace deaths 'not good enough', Michael Wood says amid White Island prosecutions

Workplace Safety Minister Michael Wood says more work needs to be done to ensure New Zealanders are safe at work, after two Government agencies were included yesterday among the 13 parties charged over the Whakaari-White Island eruption last year.

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The Workplace Safety Minister has written to MBIE seeking assurance that WorkSafe's governance of White Island Tours was up to scratch before last year's eruption. Source: 1 NEWS

"We have to do better. We still lose too many people in workplace, too many people are injured, too many people suffer long term harm from things that happen at work and it's not good enough," Wood told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, adding that New Zealand loses twice as many people as Australia per capita.

In 2011, there were 136 workplace deaths, which included the Christchurch earthquake victims, but in 2012 there were 69, in 2013 there were 72, in 2014 there were 65, in 2015 there were 59, in 2016 there were 73, in 2017 there were 79, in 2018 there were 63, then last year there were 108, including White Island victims.

"It's effectively plateaued and that's not good enough," Wood said. "We need to keep improving that."

Wood has also written to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment seeking assurance that WorkSafe's governance of White Island Tours was up to scratch before last year's eruption.

"Ultimately, I'm responsible as minister for their work and I have MB who are there to make sure that we have monitoring of WorkSafe to make sure they're doing their job.

"Yesterday, I wrote to MB asking them to give me advice so I can be assured that WorkSafe have done everything that they should've throughout this event."

Wood said he expects to hear back "fairly soon".

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The organisation's chief executive Richard Wagstaff says there's "a lot of room for improvement" in workplace safety in New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

However, Council of Trade Unions chief executive Richard Wagstaff has called on Government to fix under-resourcing in WorkSafe.

Earlier on Breakfast, Wagstaff said there's "a lot of room for improvement" in workplace safety in New Zealand.

"We like what WorkSafe are trying to do but, from our point of view, they're spread too thinly and they try to prioritise and make the buck go as far as they can.

"But unfortunately it means, in our view, they can't do everything. We could do better."

Wagstaff said he wants to see more funding and a review of the Health and Safety Act.

"When tragic events like this happen, there's a sense of, 'Let's take this as a wake-up call and get moving, and let's really advance ourselves.'

"When progress stalls, people start forgetting about it. We go back to the way we were. It's simply not good enough.

"I know that there is huge room for improvement. It's not just WorkSafe's responsibility. We need good law. We need a good regulator. We need employers to be doing their things and we need workers to be actively participating in these systems. In our view, it's a three-legged stool."

Last year the Government invested an additional $57 million into WorkSafe to boost resourcing.

However, Wood added: "We'll never be able to have a WorkSafe inspector on every work site where something dangerous is happening.

"One of the things we've actually got to do is make sure that we embed health and safety in every organisation up and down the country so that it's not a compliance thing, so that it's not just about WorkSafe enforcing things after something's gone wrong.

"It's about health and safety becoming something that we do as part of our normal practice.

"People should have the expectation that when they go to work in the morning they'll come home in one piece and they won't be harmed.

"Few things can be more important than making sure that people are safe and not losing their lives. We think about the 22 people who lost their lives but there were 47 people on that island — all of whom were traumatised, all of whom suffered serious injuries and will carry that will them for the rest of their lives.

"It breaks your heart that nearly every week there are other Kiwis in other workplaces who experience this."