The Health and Safety at Work Strategy as a foundation for change

The foundation for driving change in the health and safety at work system is the Government’s Health and Safety at Work Strategy 2018–2028 (the HSW Strategy) and its vision.

Work is healthy and safe for everyone in New Zealand.

The vision sets a clear direction for workplace health and safety in New Zealand, and outlines what everyone needs to do to get there; it is focused on what will have the biggest impact on preventing harm at work. It identifies New Zealand’s common capability gaps, and has a goal of building everyone’s health and safety capability. This is because, to continue to transform New Zealand’s workplace health and safety performance to world-class, change must continue to be collectively driven.

Sector, industry and business leaders such as Business New Zealand (BusinessNZ), along with all employers and other duty holders have a fundamental role in lifting the performance of the health and safety system, and in ensuring we all come home from work healthy and safe. They need to engage with workers, their representatives and unions, such as the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions – Te Kauae Kaimahi (the CTU). Government regulators and agencies, along with health and safety experts and organisations, must be party to the change in our health and safety at work culture and practice.

The Government expects WorkSafe to lead, and actively contribute to achieving the vision and the goals set out in the HSW Strategy, and to deliver work under each of its seven priority areas. We remain committed to doing this; it was a focus of our performance year in 2019–2020, and will remain our focus for the future. We are also committed to building upon our traditional activities, and working in new ways to make change happen. Our work starts with our strategy direction, set out in our Statement of Intent 2018/19–2021/22 (our SoI) and its vision.

We are working towards a productive New Zealand in which everyone who goes to work comes home healthy and safe.

The performance of the health and safety system

The burden on workers from work-related ill health far outweighs the burden from work-related acute injuries.

A Health and safety system outcomes dashboard (the dashboard) has been developed to help monitor New Zealand’s progress towards achieving the HSW Strategy. It brings together the available data and insights on the priority areas of the HSW Strategy, including the health and safety system targets. It will be improved as new data becomes available. There are two goals, and seven areas of priority in the HSW Strategy. One of the priority areas recognises the importance of an increased focus on work-related health. The importance of encouraging health and safety leadership is also acknowledged.

Work-related health

Work-related ill-health accounts for 88% of the work-related harm burden. Musculoskeletal disorders account for the largest burden of harm, followed by mental ill health, cancers and respiratory diseases. Many cancers and respiratory diseases are caused by airborne exposures.

Past exposure to asbestos (usually decades ago) account for the greatest number of current estimated deaths, followed by exposures to dusts, vapours, gases and fumes that cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The good news is that we are working towards achieving our system target of a 50% reduction in asbestos-related disease by 2040. We also know that most work-related cancer and respiratory disease is preventable.

There are appropriate controls available for most airborne risks, such as substituting the use of carcinogenic substances or using on-tool extraction to remove dust. It is clear that New Zealand can work towards preventing these harms and addressing these statistics.

[image] estimated deaths attributed to work-related ill-health graph
[image] exposures attributed to estimated work-related ill-health deaths graph

WorkSafe’s increased focus on work-related health is necessary to achieving healthier work and workplaces, where our workers can thrive. This year, WorkSafe received additional funding to increase its harm prevention activities. This has enabled us to lift the profile of, and increase the size and capability of, our Health and Technical Services team. We have engaged technical specialists to develop and deliver new harm prevention work programmes under our three work-related health action plans.

Our harm prevention activities can make a measurable difference to improving work-related health. WorkSafe is focused on supporting all workplaces to prevent harms before they occur. This will prevent the burden harms place on our workers and their family, whānau, communities, and to New Zealand as a whole.

WorkSafe will be increasingly focused on how we support employers and businesses to enable better work through effective systems and practices; so that our workers, businesses and country can thrive. We will continue to take action where employers and businesses do not do all that is reasonably practicable.

Workplace fatalities and injuries

New Zealand’s workplace fatality and injury system targets reflect the need for New Zealand to continue to improve our fatality and serious injury rates. Our monitoring and reporting on these system targets tell us that, after Pike River, New Zealand’s efforts to reduce fatalities and serious injuries were initially positive. We halved our fatality rate between 2010–12 and 2016–18. However, progress has now stalled and we need to re-invigorate our efforts to build upon our early gains.1

Twenty percent of all acute fatalities were workers aged over 65 years and of these, almost half worked in agriculture. Workers under the age of 25 years are at higher risk of a work-related acute injury.2 This tells us that we need to change the ‘it’ll be alright’ attitude to safety on our farms. We cannot wait for more family, whānau, friends, colleagues and communities to suffer the loss of a loved one to inspire improvements in health and safety in agriculture.

9 out of 10 fatality victims on farms are male

[image] acute fatality rate by age group
[image] rate of acute injury with more than a week away from work by age graph

Forestry, agriculture, manufacturing and construction are higher-risk sectors and a focus for workplace health and safety. Official statistics for these sectors have had mixed results, while manufacturing has seen recent increases in fatalities and week away from work (WAFW) acute injuries. Almost half of work-related acute fatalities are related to vehicle incidents and a third of acute injuries with more than a WAFW are related to muscular stress while lifting, carrying or putting down objects.

Almost half of work-related acute fatalities are related to vehicle incidents.

[image] five most frequent event types that lead to work-related deaths graph
[image] six most frequent event types that led to workers spending mroe than a WAFW graph

Māori are at higher risk of injury than non-Māori even though the difference in injury risk has been decreasing over time. Excess injuries are the number of acute injuries for Māori that would not have occurred if Māori had the same injury rate as non-Māori. The sectors with he highest number of excess injuries for Māori are manufacturing, construction, and transport, postal and warehousing.

[image] sectors with the highest number of excess injuries for Maori in 2018 graph

Improving health and safety in high-risk sectors and for workers with greater needs is an ongoing focus for WorkSafe. We are also increasing our focus on high-risk work. Following research, design and consultation with key partners and stakeholders including the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and New Zealand Police (Police), we have launched a programme to address harm working in and around vehicles. More information about this work is provided later in this report.

WorkSafe’s plan to tackle musculoskeletal stress includes work to recognise the common risk and protective factors influencing both psychological and physical health (including musculoskeletal disorders). The strategic frame for these work-related focus areas is being developed under the framework of good work design. The work will support a system focus to address work organisation factors, and the interplay between health and safety outcomes and positive workplace cultures.

WorkSafe will continue its focus on workers with greater needs. We are committed to our new cross-cutting tripartite groups; our Partners Council with Iwi and our social partners (Business NZ and the CTU) and our Pacific Peoples Responsiveness Advisory Group. This year we also supported the establishment of a tripartite Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation (WEPR) Community of Practice.

Building and supporting enduring and effective partnerships is core to enabling sectors and industries, from Boardroom directors to workplace Health and Safety Representatives, to take ownership and lead the culture and system of work changes required to make the country’s workplaces healthier and safer. We need to grow the one in five workplaces with a mature safety culture to 100%.

Health and safety leadership

The dashboard shows us that New Zealand’s information on health and safety leadership is patchy. We do know that the reported importance of health and safety by leaders increased between 2013 and 2016, after which it appears to have plateaued.3 This is something that we will continue to monitor. It validates the focus in the HSW Strategy, on encouraging leaders at all levels to integrate health and safety into workplace policies and practices. This will be even more important into the future as the nature of work and workplaces change; as a result of global economic, environmental, technical and social change, and in the more immediate future as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19

WorkSafe expects that the COVID-19 lockdown and the recession will have an impact on a range of health and safety system indicators and targets. We might see improvements in some areas. There was a reduction in the number of workplace fatalities during the April/May 2020 lockdown, and we expect that the number of workplace accidents to decrease in the short term. A goal for all of us is to sustain the decrease in the medium to longer term.

COVID-19 provided us with an opportunity to reflect on what is important; our people, their helath and their safety.

Fatalities from electrical and gas accidents

We have achieved our target for fatalities associated with electrical and gas incidents that they trend down. WorkSafe undertakes an array of activities in our role as the Energy Safety regulator. These include proactive auditing, education and targeted safety campaigns focusing on the key known energy risks.

A notable Energy Safety campaign undertaken by WorkSafe this year was focused on working in the home. It was put in place as the COVID-19 pandemic moved many workers outside of their usual workplaces and into ‘offices at home’; be it working in their job remotely, or working on some Do-It-Yourself while off work.

During the April/May 2020 lockdown, WorkSafe ran four series of Facebook and Instagram energy safety stories and in-feed posts, in a campaign that significantly outperformed current benchmarks including cost per click. We reached 1,004,033 people and the posts were displayed 6,568,362 times. We then promoted a campaign focused on a safe return to our workplaces.

We want to sustain our positive results in reducing fatalities from electrical and gas accidents.

Whakaari/White Island; a tragic, catastrophic event

This year we opened an investigation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, into the work-related health and safety issues surrounding the eruption of Whakaari/White Island; a tragic, catastrophic event. The investigation of these health and safety issues is the largest and most complex we have ever undertaken.

Our health and safety investigation has been well resourced, and supported with the right expertise and experience. We have been able to draw that expertise from across our organisation, and have also used external experts. We will continue to rely on our people and on expert advice as we work through the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of our borders.

We diverted significant people and financial resources into the investigation. We also progressed the investigation throughout all the COVID-19 Alert Levels; albeit at a reduced intensity during Alert Level 4 as WorkSafe staff were required to work safely and remotely to prevent the potential spread of the virus. At Alert Level 3, the investigative team reconvened in Whakatāne (working consistently within the Government’s Alert Level guidelines).

Along with the investigation, WorkSafe initiated a review of possible adventure activity operators to confirm whether they are subject to the Health and Safety at Work (Adventure Activities) Regulations 2016. We have worked to identify possible operators across New Zealand that will be proactively visited in the new performance year. The investigation and the review will remain a priority in 2020/2021.


1 - WorkSafe reports progress towards the system targets with the data that was reported in the financial year in question, rather than the latest available results at time of publication. The latest data at the time of publication is available on the Stats NZ website(external link).

2 - The lower injury rate per worker (in graphs on this page) is a result of young workers being more likely to work part-time.

3 - Health and Safety Attitudes and Behaviours Survey (2018).