Regional | Regional

Workplace deaths and injuries higher for Māori

A major report is out for health and safety at the workplace, and the numbers are not looking good for Māori.

“We are hurting too many people and killing too many people at the workplace,” economist and report researcher Shamubeel Eaqub says.

The State of a Thriving Nation report by the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum shows 73 deaths on average from workplace accidents annually. That’s a rate four times higher than that of Australia and matches that of the UK in the 1980s.

“We are decades behind,” Eaqub says.

“Māori are overrepresented in these stats, whether it is in fatalities which are 50% higher for Māori or in serious injuries,” he says.

Worksafe New Zealand says Māori workers experience a rate of serious injury at work that is on average 31% higher than non-Māori across all industries and sectors nationally.

Working with Māori

“Higher rates of work harm for Māori are unacceptable and the whole of WorkSafe is driving change around this,” Worksafe deputy chief executive of Equity Partnerships and Intervention Design Paula Collins says.

Worksafe is engaging with iwi to address this, typically in high-risk industries with a high Māori workforce, like forestry, construction and manufacturing. An example of this is forestry in Te Tairawhiti, Collins says.

“Māori workers make up 34% of the total workforce in the forestry sector. And we know that Māori forestry workers particularly in Te Tairāwhiti are seriously injured and killed at work at a disproportionate rate.”

Te Rūnanga o Tūranganui a Kiwa chief executive Ronald Nepe says 18 kaimahi died between 2003 and 2022. For one sector in a region the size of Te Tairawhiti, this is significant.

“When you lose 18 valuable lives, when you cut whakapapa of 18 people, that’s serious stuff,” says Ruatoria local Joseph McClutchie, who has been advocating for injured workers and grieving families. While these lives show up as numbers and statistics on reports, for iwi and whānau each of these numbers represent a personal tragedy, McClutchie says.

“I am not a stats person, I am about the mother with kids walking down the streets with no father, The mother who’s lost her son. That’s serious stuff,” he says.

Te Kawa a Tāne

East Coast Iwi (Te Rūnanga o Tūranganui A Kiwa and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Porou) have partnered with Worksafe and other government agencies as well as the forestry industry to launch a health and safety collective to address this.

“This forestry alliance, Te Kawa a Tāne, was recently launched and is an example of jointly delivering a collective response with an iwi group to address the equity gap between Māori and non-Māori forestry workers in Te Tairāwhiti,” Worksafe deputy chief executive Paula Collins says

“I also want to acknowledge WorkSafe for facilitating and ensuring that we were going to be a part of the machinery,” says McClutchie. He also stresses that this is not about “bringing down” the numbers. “It’s about preventing any more harm,” he says.

McClutchie also says one of the voices that has been missing at the table so far is that of the kaimahi and this needs to change.