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  • Rebekah.Orr

One rule for all?

You'd have to almost be living under a rock to have missed this story from February of this year: on a fine day, with clear visibility and the road workers having followed all standard procedures for safety, a driver ploughed into their parked work truck, which hit three men, killing all of them.

Everyone, regardless of industry, was horrified and saddened, that three kiwi blokes could get up and kiss their families goodbye in the morning and not come home that night. The reality is that, that part happens more often than any of us want to admit, but it was more what seems to be obvious recklessness and negligence of the driver who had caused the accident that caused an uproar.

Now the case is causing an uproar again, with the driver having been recently sentenced.

Do we even call that a sentence? Perhaps in our more charitable moments, we could table the idea that having caused three deaths and living with that guilt forever is a mighty heavy sentence - but we don't use that logic with those convicted of murder or manslaughter, now do we? Jail term or not, what we see is a glaring inconsistency within the system.

The driver that killed three people gets less than two years driving disqualification, 250 hours community service, and pays $21,000 in reparations. That's not $21 grand a family, that's a total. $7,000 each, which as one commenter remarked, is barely enough to cover the cost of a funeral, let alone anything else. It's a couple months worth of wages. Not a lot, when you think about it.

Three men died at work through the negligence of a member of the public. Shall we contrast that with the fine that would be brought down if three people died at work in the same incident due to the negligence of their employers? Wonder what the difference might have been if he'd been a business owner in a signwritten company car? Or if he'd been one of their own workers?

Now, an argument can certainly be made that an employer has a greater responsibility to their workers than a member of the public driving past (or into them, as the case may be) does, and it's true. At least in theory. But what's a life worth? Shouldn't we all take equal responsibility for taking care of one another?

In this case we have a company found liable for a single death, and they're fined half a million and change. the real costs being far higher of course once you add in legal fees and the like.

The emotional cost of losing a loved one or co-worker or friend is the same regardless of the way in which they're lost, so why the gap?

We could ask what a life is worth - and what message does this send, when the answers are so disparate? Equality? One rule for all? Reckless driver kills - a few grand and you're on your way. A business owner, bolstering economic growth and adding value to the community at large - half a million. That could be the end of many businesses. What's the cost to the community of losing those jobs?

We're not arguing that a fine shouldn't be handed down. If someone dies on your watch and there's a case to answer because you didn't do your job in providing every opportunity for that person to stay safe, then it stands to reason. Most workplace accidents are so easily preventable, but preventing them isn't always entirely on the shoulders of the workplace itself.

Of course, reality is that no life can be measured by any amount of money.

Our hearts go out to any and all affected by a workplace death - to families, to friends and to co-workers. The loss of a loved one can never truly be quantified, and unfortunately money is the primary way we have to assuage the damage that someone's sudden absence from our lives does. The true costs are the ones no-one can ever measure: loneliness, heartache, trauma. Money only goes so far.

Moral of the story - businesses have got to take extra steps to protect themselves and their people - but really when you get down to it, its all about people anyway.

He aha te mea nui o te ao What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata It is the people, it is the people, it is the people (Maori proverb)

Look after each other out there.

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