It found a culture of risk aided and abetted by employers – workers and successive governments not taking health and safety seriously enough. That point was underlined by an independent taskforce which concluded it was twice as dangerous to work in New Zealand as Australia and nearly four times as risky as working in Britain. Rectifying that state of affairs should have been a matter of urgency. But this has not happened – and serious accidents remain far too commonplace.
The latest at a north Canterbury limestone quarry appears to bear many of the hallmarks of a high-risk environment. The digger driver buried under a 1000-tonne landslide was operating his machine under an overhanging cliff face. It was the country’s third serious quarry incident this year – a fact that inevitably draws attention to safety in the sector. It also invites a reconsideration of the Government’s decision to exclude quarrying from the strengthened mining safety law introduced after Pike River.
Originally quarrying was to come under this umbrella – an acknowledgment that it too often involves highly dangerous work. But after lobbying from the industry quarrying was excluded.
The deaths this year leave the Government with egg on its face. They suggest that the more stringent approach was the right one. They also highlight the slow rate of progress in remedying the country’s workplace health and safety law. Pike River occurred in 2010 and two years later the commission declared that this time the lessons must not be forgotten.
Yet the latest development has been a two-month delay in returning the Health and Safety Reform Bill to Parliament from the transport and industrial relations select committee – because of disagreements between National MPs.