'I thought I was paralysed' - Construction worker recounts collapsing after enduring pressures of the industry

The cost of construction worker injury claims rose to $153 million last year, and the Accident Compensation Corporation says it’s the hidden cost of the building boom.

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The rising cost has prompted ACC to take action. Source: 1 NEWS

“It does take a bit of training and a focus to keep things safe," ACC workplace safety manager Virginia Burton-Konia said.

"With a whole lot of new people into the sector, that just means a lot more effort at the front end to keep those people safe - from induction, to ongoing training, to the supervisors on those building sites or within those trades - to really support those new people to look after themselves and look after their workers."

More than 48,000 injury claims were received by ACC for construction last year - more than any other sector.

ACC is trying a new approach to reducing the injury rate, tasking Construction Health and Safety New Zealand to work with the industry to find out what type of support initiatives would be effective, boosting the charitable trust’s efforts with $3.5 million in funding for the first two years of a five-year partnership.

"There’s a lot of pressure in the sector, a lot of things happening, a lot of things that have to be connected and with that pressure, under stress, sometimes you just do silly things, you know things - that we wouldn’t normally do if we weren’t under so much pressure," Burton-Konia said.

"It’s about the sector really looking after themselves as well, looking after their colleagues, when we are in these high pressurised situations."

Construction Health and Safety New Zealand chief executive Chris Alderson said the amount of musculoskeletal injuries the trust is seeing is high.

"We would like to really make sure that organisations understand that this is not just something that we really need to put up with - this is something that we can change," Alderson said.

Workzone general manager Kurt Simpson is helping improve worksite practices in his team by funding prevention training for staff.

“If we look after our staff and we make sure they don’t have these injuries themselves then we're not going to lose them for a day or two,” he said.

Scaffolder Jonathan van Echten understands the impact of not focusing on health and safety in the worksite and says risks can be overlooked when workers are under pressure and there’s a “toughen up” attitude.

“Ten years ago when I first started, there was a culture of ‘we have to break the labourer,’” he said.

Van Echten said while that has now changed, it took him collapsing while doing the washing last year for him to make the changes required to look after his body while working.

"I thought I was paralysed, I couldn't feel my legs and I just realised right then and there that I've got to take this stuff seriously," he said.

"I thought that that was it … that was my career gone and I started thinking about my family."