Learning from Mistakes: A Compilation of New Zealand Workplace Incidents and H&S Training Shortcomings

28 March, 2024  |  News

Robust workplace Health and Safety (H&S) training is not just a legal obligation or simply a box to tick; it is fundamental to protecting human lives and maintaining organisational integrity. Across New Zealand's many industries, it becomes increasingly evident that the consequences of inadequate H&S training reach far beyond the confines of any single incident. A look through some real-life New Zealand workplace scenarios, where the absence of adequate training has left an indelible mark on individuals, communities, and businesses alike, is enlightening.


Common Themes in Workplace Incidents

Examining workplace incidents across diverse sectors, patterns emerge, which serve as cautionary tales for employers and employees alike. From construction sites to the bustling floors of hospitality establishments, the absence of comprehensive training manifests in a range of ways. Among the recurring themes, lack of hazard awareness is significant; where employees navigate potentially dangerous landscapes without the requisite knowledge to identify and mitigate risks. Similarly, the inadequacy of emergency response training leaves workplaces vulnerable in moments of crisis. Add to this a reluctance to use personal protective equipment (PPE) and these common themes serve up preventable tragedies and missed opportunities for intervention.


New Zealand Case Studies

Exploring the real-life ramifications of inadequate health and safety (H&S) training, some specific workplace incidents bring to life the serious consequences of overlooking this essential aspect of workplace management.  


Inadequate Training Leads to Auckland Airport Hand Injury 

A serious incident at Auckland International Airport involving a wildlife ranger's hand injuries was attributed to inadequate training. The worker was attempting to clear the runway of wild geese using a pyrotechnic launcher.

Upon firing the cartridge, the victim suffered serious lacerations to the palm and loss of two fingertips on their right hand.

WorkSafe, New Zealand's workplace health and safety regulator, attributed the incident to inadequate training in the use of pyrotechnic launchers and cartridge handling. This lack of training highlighted the importance of aligning training with best H&S practices and legal requirements. Following the incident, Auckland Airport entered an Enforceable Undertaking with WorkSafe, committing to raising health and safety standards, providing financial compensation to the victim, implementing new safety controls, establishing a wildlife working group, organising a wildlife hazards conference, and supporting mental health services in the South Auckland area. The airport also made significant improvements in training, procedures, and record-keeping to enhance the safety of wildlife rangers, with ongoing monitoring by WorkSafe to ensure compliance and progress.


Waikato Company Fined When Worker is Buried

Following a workplace incident at a farm in Waikato, R&L Drainage Limited was fined $275,000 after an employee sustained severe injuries during an excavation. The employee suffered a collapsed lung, broken rib cage, sternum, and collarbone when the trench's side walls collapsed. WorkSafe's investigation revealed lapses in employee training and safety procedures, with the employer failing to provide adequate information and supervision. R&L Drainage was charged under multiple offences of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and fined $275,000 by the Hamilton District Court, with an additional $45,000 allocated for reparations. WorkSafe found R&L Drainage did not have a safe system of work in place for the job, and did not provide enough information, training, or supervision to protect workers from the risk of a trench collapse. WorkSafe went on to emphasise the importance of employers ensuring both the physical and mental well-being of their employees in such incidents.


Food Company’s Faulty Machinery Severs Worker's Thumb

An Auckland-based egg processing company faced a hefty fine of $200,000 following a workplace incident where an employee's thumb was severed. WorkSafe New Zealand revealed the accident occurred due to inadequate guarding on a screw conveyor, causing the worker's thumb to get caught between the access latch and the rotating blade. Despite staff awareness of the hazard and resorting to workarounds, the obscured location of the latch was unknown to site managers. WorkSafe emphasised that proper machinery guarding to industry standards could have prevented the accident and urged businesses to consider safety during cleaning and maintenance procedures. The Papakura District Court imposed fines for violations of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, with the company ordered to pay $30,000 in reparations to the victim. The case reinforced the need for the wider manufacturing industry to prioritise worker safety to prevent further injuries and fatalities.


Recommendations and Best Practices

Based on common themes identified across recent New Zealand workplace incidents, several overarching concepts would enhance health and safety (H&S) training practices. Employers must prioritise comprehensive H&S training programs tailored to the specific risks and hazards within their industries. This includes ensuring that all employees receive adequate training in hazard awareness, emergency response protocols, and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Moreover, best practices for effective H&S training should incorporate interactive learning methods, such as hands-on simulations and real-life case studies, to reinforce understanding and engagement among employees.

It is crucial for organisations to recognise the importance of ongoing training and regular reviews to adapt to changing workplace dynamics. H&S training should not be a one-time event but an ongoing process that evolves alongside emerging risks and technologies. Employers should maintain regular refresher courses and safety drills to reinforce key concepts and update employees on new procedures or equipment. Additionally, creating a culture of continuous improvement where employees feel empowered to voice safety concerns and suggest improvements will further enhance H&S practices across industries.

By implementing these recommendations and adhering to best practices for H&S training, organisations in New Zealand can mitigate risks, prevent workplace incidents, and ensure the health and well-being of their employees.


IMPAC's expertise can help focus your H&S investment on what really matters. We can support your efforts to prevent incidents and promote a workplace environment that prioritises the well-being of your employees. With our tailored solutions, we empower your organisation to thrive while safeguarding against potential risks.


Note: The examples provided in this editorial are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. +IMPAC has not been directly involved in any of the situations described.