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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Regulator report—Shocking vehicle toll

PAULA KNAAP reveals that in recent years, nearly three-quarters of work-related fatalities have involved people working in or around vehicles of all kinds.

Vehicles are an integral part of industry, getting people, goods and services where they need to be. But vehicles are also a critical risk to the safety of workers. To manage the critical risk vehicles pose is far from straightforward.

Our latest data tells us that vehicles are the single biggest cause of acute harm at work across all sectors. A staggering 73% of all work-related fatalities between 2013 and 2017 involved a vehicle or a piece of mobile plant. This is much higher than we previously thought.

Initial findings from WorkSafe data and research tells us that:

  • • 
    The vehicle killing the largest number of people is trucks (105 people killed between 2010 and 2017), followed by quad bikes (42 people killed) and tractors (40).
  • • 
    When it comes to injuries, quad bike incidents require the most time off work.
  • • 
    Most harm occurs off-road.
  • • 
    Vehicles affect health as well as safety (eg illnesses resulting from exposure to diesel fumes, and the negative health effects of sedentary work).


We have also identified the kinds of things causing workers harm from vehicles, using research in New Zealand and from similar overseas jurisdictions. These include:

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    Contracts based on output.
  • • 
    Poor site management.
  • • 
    Time pressures, conflict between profit and safety.
  • • 
    Unsafe driver behaviour/the human unpredictability factor.

The consequences of an incident involving vehicles can be severe; the person may suffer crush injuries, fractures, or die. The business may have to deal with property damage, reputational damage, service disruption, and increased insurance.


We are now focusing on how to address the risks of working in and around vehicles, across all industry sectors, because of the over-representation of vehicles in serious injuries and fatalities.

Two sectors are most affected by vehicle risks: transport/postal/warehousing, and agriculture. This is where our focus will start, working with key stakeholders in these industries.

We have already been working with the agriculture industry about the critical risks farm vehicles pose to farm workers, and this will continue. In our conversations we’ve consistently emphasised the importance of the need to use the right vehicle for the job, the conditions and the skill of the driver.


We are now doing more in-depth research on vehicles at work, to properly understand the harm landscape and associated risk factors. Work vehicles come in many shapes and sizes – they are used by every sector in a diverse range of on- and off-road environments, from quad bikes to trucks to forklifts to excavators and scissor lifts.

We will start working with industry and other partners in the next few months to further understand the risks of working around vehicles, and build a resources toolkit to support behaviour change across the supply chain that will be in use by the end of the year.

We cannot do this on our own. The supply chain crosses the jurisdictions of a range of agencies so we will be working together with the Civil Aviation Authority, Maritime New Zealand, New Zealand Transport Agency, and our partners at the Ministry of Transport and the New Zealand Police.


One important principle we will apply is to co-design and co-deliver solutions. We’ll be looking at innovative ways to engage those affected by harm to help us create solutions.

We’ll be looking for increased business and worker understanding about how to manage the risks of working in and around vehicles. Over time, we aim to see a reduction in vehicle-related harm and injury.

Businesses that use or rely on vehicles please note: what won’t change is our view that business must always eliminate the risk where reasonably able to do so. Businesses and their workers must then develop ways to minimise risk using the most effective controls that are proportionate to the risk and appropriate to their work.

Paula Knaap is director, strategic engagement and implementation with WorkSafe New Zealand.

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