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Why something is rotten with New Zealand's approach to safety

Designer David Trubridge shares his views on workplace safety laws, society's wider views on what is safe and what is not and what is inherently wrong with this way of thinking. 

What is safe? You could say a ladder is unsafe. Yet they have been around for ever and human societies seemed to have survived, despite the inherent danger of creating a gravity laden distance between our bodies and the ground. But it appears that humans today are too stupid and unreliable to be trusted with them so Work Safe are keen to remove them—as has already been done in the UK.

What could possibly be dangerous about a cordless drill? It is now such a threat that the whole company had to sit down for half an hour and listen to an 'expert' telling us all how to use them. Then we had to do a written test to prove we understood it? It is a case of diminishing returns ad absurdam: we have eliminated the serious dangers in workplaces and it is now the humble ladder or drill that has become top of the danger list. But the diminishing returns come at an increasing and disproportionate cost.


What is safe? Are the ranks of 4wd's sitting outside schools waiting to pick up their children, with the engines running and exhausts pumping out fumes, safe for our kids? Is it safe to push your child down a city street in a low level push chair through the smog of diesel fumes and deafening traffic? Instead we might escape out into our "clean green" country and have a swim in the rivers.


But no, that is not safe either. Is it safe to drink our tap water? Is it safe to encourage the extraction of more fossil fuels when we know that burning them is causing climate change? How many people died in the latest wave of hurricanes, made extreme by the hottest ever sea surface temperatures — caused by burning coal, oil and gas? Are we considering the safety of a whole generation of grandchildren?


So why is this all allowed to happen with no intervention from safety enforcement, when my walnut of a business is being crushed by a sledge hammer over such things as ladders? There is something seriously amiss here and I suggest that it is because of the disproportionate power of big business. No one will listen to me when I wail about the harsh costs I am forced to incur; but when the farmers complain to government that their businesses will be hurt by carbon and methane controls, they are immediately made exempt from the scheme, even though they are the biggest polluters in the land. Similarly, oil companies or car makers have so much power that they can force governments to accede to their will. More than that, a big construction company might have the ear of government which will implement its suggestions of safety controls, knowing full well that this is a ploy to squeeze out the small fry who can't afford them.


I like to think that I care more about the well-being of those who work for me than the average business owner. Safety is a major concern: we do more than is required of us and we have a totally clean accident record. Sure there are cowboys out there who care far less and they create a need for legislation to protect workers. But it is going too far now and I cannot take seriously the demands being made of me while the real threats to all our safety are being wilfully ignored. Let's get the balance right and make our country more healthy before we start crushing walnuts with sledgehammers. A ladder might break one or two arms (while teaching a valuable lesson about taking care), but pollution will maim a whole generation of trusting children.