Health Strategy Launched

26 August, 2016  |  News

WorkSafe’s ten-year strategy to tackle work-related health was launched with some fanfare in Wellington earlier this month, with the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety describing it as an important milestone on the regulator’s journey.

“It is time for us to turn our attention to health, and to make sure people not only stay safe at work but healthy at work,” Michael Woodhouse told the 40 or so people gathered for the event.

He said far too many New Zealanders would be able to tell a story such as that of his own grandfather, who worked as a boilermaker at the Hillside and Woburn workshops and was diagnosed with asbestosis at 69, dying at 70.

“He would have lagged the insides of boilers for a long time. He had about 30 grandchildren, and a number of them my age and younger – I was 11 when he died – never got to benefit from the sort of fantastic mentoring stories he could tell.”

That life could be cut short due to the latent effects of exposure to health risks years earlier, he said, is something that cannot be accepted as part of working life. “In this plan I see a clear framework now for thinking about and acting on those issues that affect our health.”

The challenge, he said, is to take the scientific case for change and explain it convincingly to the people who will decide if they take action to prevent health risk exposures to themselves and their staff: to the plumber who might remove asbestos-lagged pipes, or to the builder who doesn’t use respiratory protection when cutting concrete.

“That’s the cut-through we need to make.”

The minister cautioned it would be years before the benefits of the action plan became evident, but that action has to be taken now. “We need to be patient. We need to accept that those numbers will stay high for a while. But this plan is a coherent approach to reducing the health alphats of work.”

Earlier, WorkSafe’s board chair Professor Gregor Coster had supplied some numbers: 600 to 900 deaths a year caused by ill health due to work-related exposures, with a further 30,000 people each year whose health is seriously affected by their work. “That’s an intolerable human burden which this plan seeks to address.”

He said the plan approaches health from two directions: the effect of work on health, and the effect of a person’s health on their work – this latter being a potential cause of injury, such as a fatigued worker operating heavy equipment.

“Let’s be in no doubt, we really need this plan. We’ve needed it for a long time.”

The plan – Healthy Work: WorkSafe’s Strategic Plan for Work-Related Health 2016 to 2026 – is available here.