Workplace deaths - what are we doing?
Safeguard Magazine (May/June 2016) outlined the workplace death toll from January to the end of April 2016. This has been confirmed by WorkSafe NZ but does not include road, air or maritime deaths. These are counted under different categories.
So far there have been 19 workplace fatalities. Nineteen people who are not going home to their families. Families and friends of 19 people who will always have a gap in their lives.
Who are they?
They are all men, although two are children. One was seven years old and drowned, and the other was three years old and was crushed in a timber yard.
The other men range in age from 31 to 74 years of age. This is often a surprise as we tend to think of the young guns being the ones who take risks. It’s important to remember that older people have accidents too. Younger workers are more likely to have accidents because they don’t understand the systems, or the power of the machinery. They may not raise issues but will work within, or find a way around, a system so they can get the job done. Older workers may become complacent and not pay full attention or take shortcuts because they know the job so well. This doesn’t allow for daily variations, which can have a big impact. Older workers do not always adapt well to changes in technology. Also, they start to have physical limitations, such as finding it hard to turn their heads to look behind them. The industries these men worked in ranged from forestry to agriculture, from transport to construction. Many of them were killed by machinery or plant rolling or crushing them.
…this is often a surprise as we tend to think of the young guns being the ones who take risks…
What can we learn?
Often the answer to an accident investigation is “they should be more careful” or “we need to do more training”. Being more careful is not a robust health and safety solution. We need to have systems in place that make it easy for a worker to do their job the right way; this makes being more careful unnecessary. Further training can be a great idea but it depends on the training. For instance, what training would you give a truck driver with 20-plus years’ experience? They already know how to drive a truck. Teaching them how to drive will only alienate them and make them resistant to learning. However, if we think outside the normal range of training there are usually options that are helpful. You could set up some fuel efficiency training. This could be set up as a competition to save fuel, which makes it more interesting.