Best practice guidelines criticism unfounded

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By Scaffolding, Access and Rigging New Zealand president Nick Pfahlert

In the June 2014 issue of Building Today, columnist Mike Fox suggested regulations surrounding scaffolding and working at heights in the construction industry added additional costs and delays to building projects, and sited misinformation around enforcement of the rules and inspections.

While we welcome debate in the construction sector, it’s important that some of Mr Fox’s inaccuracies and misinformation are corrected. So let’s set the record straight about the economic and industry impact of height safety best practice and regulations.

According to an independent BRANZ study, the Best Practice Guidelines around working at heights in New Zealand is estimated to result in 90 fewer deaths and severe injuries per year, and will save the New Zealand economy $1.13 billion over the next 25 years.

We must remember that working at heights is a holistic term, and not only about scaffolding, rigging or accessing, but includes a safety approach for those across industries who are at risk working at height.

All inclusive, the research shows stronger guidelines generate more than $1 billion dollars in total benefits over 25 years, thanks to improved productivity, reduced sick leave and lower health care costs. This equates to a cost-effective benefit for the industry, workers and the New Zealand economy.

We understand that regulation can be challenging, but the Best Practice Guidelines, as they deal with construction, have been developed by leaders across the construction industry and the Department of Labour who understand the best way to keep New Zealanders safe, while also ensuring productivity can remain high.

We are working hard every day to better improve our standards and work with practical changes, saving money for New Zealanders and making scaffolding, rigging and access safer for everyone involved.

Although the working at heights best practice spans many industries, the construction sector in New Zealand has a reputation for its poor health and safety record. According to ACC, there were 133 work-related injury claims to ACC for every 1000 full-time workers in the construction industry in 2011.

The number of injuries in the construction industry carries a significant financial cost, with claims exceeding more than $100 million every year. In the 2007/2008 financial year, 50% of fatal ACC injury claims occurred in the construction industry.

The very reason scaffolding exists is to better protect workers, and it is the responsibility of the industry to ensure workers can be as safe as possible in an already dangerous industry. 

The BRANZ study also confirmed that stricter guidelines for those working at heights in the residential construction sector has reduced total accidents by 3.7%. As more companies understand and implement Best Practice Guidelines, injuries will be reduced by a greater number.

Further research has shown that as inspections have increased following protocol put in place by the Ministry of Labour under its WorkSafe legislation, their increased visual presence has put construction companies on notice to clean up their act and follow safety regulations at a higher standard. The increased presence is estimated to reduce accidents by almost 25%.

Mr Fox also assessed that there have been building delays, particularly in Canterbury, because of scaffolding requirements.

We accept there is a significant shortage of skilled scaffolders in New Zealand. Scaffolding, access and rigging are demanding jobs requiring skills and strength, resilience, agility and a head for heights. That’s why we successfully advocated for scaffolding to go on the Immediate Skills Shortage List.

We have also continued to increase training to apprentices to help develop their skills all the way up to management level. With more capability, faster service will be available across the industry.