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  • Rebekah.Orr

Death by numbers

There's nothing worse than feeling like you're just a number - whether it's the bank, the government or the boss seeming to forget you're a human being, it universally sucks. We live in a world increasingly aware that people want to be treated as individuals, while simultaneously the world seems ever harder to assign us a number rather than accept our identity. But you know the worst kind of number to have assigned to you? A statistic.

Statistics are stripped of detail or colour, and yet they can be very sobering.

According to the International Labour Organisation, an estimated 2.3 MILLION work related deaths (from accident and disease) occur globally each year. That boils down to about 6000 per day. Worldwide, there are 340 million occupational accidents every year, and here in little ol' NZ we take more than our fair share of that. In the first six months of 2019, there have been more than 25 fatalities in the workplace - and that doesn't include aviation, maritime, (both have separate investigation departments) or anyone who might have been hurt or killed while driving for a living (that comes under the road toll).

Agriculture, construction and forestry are most frequently represented in these numbers; but why?

The answer isn't one everyone wants to hear. The fact is, they're inherently more dangerous than most other occupations. Stuff up in the office, and a file might go in the wrong place, or a phonecall doesn't get made. Maybe you even lose a big client over your mistake. But nobody is actually going to die (even if you might want to earth to open up and swallow you at the time). Make a mistake; be in the wrong place, forget to do something, or fail to communicate in one of those three industries, and somebody really might get hurt, or worse. The numbers prove it.

The stink of it is, that without eradicating those industries altogether - and what would NZ be without its vast tracts of fertile farmland or its rich stands of forestry? - we can't eliminate the dangers within them.

Health and safety seems to be a phrase that universally irritates people; it changes the way they work, asks for needless bits of paper and creates more administration work. Sometimes, it makes the work itself more difficult, when the safety ideas come from a place that has never seen any work outside of the sanctuary of an air-conditioned office.

But, we've got to do SOMETHING. For every one of those statistics, every one of OUR PEOPLE that has been killed at work so far this year alone, there's a whole story. They aren't a number. They are a name, and a face, a laugh and a voice. Their story might have finished, but now comprises that of the loved ones who miss them - the story doesn't end for those left behind. It continues to be told in heartbreak. The cost of workplace accidents can't be quantified in something as simple as the calculation of lost wages or downtime on a worksite. Its the loss of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. The loss of individuals whose gifts might have one day changed the world. Maybe we can afford the ACC payouts. But we can't afford to keep losing our people.

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