Workers' Memorial Day

By NZISM Secretary


On April 28, we mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work or Workers' Memorial Day, commemorating those who lost their lives or suffered serious injury at work. Workers' Memorial Day isn't just about remembering those who died. It's about acknowledging the pain and suffering caused by serious injuries, both visible and invisible, that impact individuals, and whānau.

My uncle died on a construction site in London before I was born, and like many families, I missed out on the opportunity to meet and have a relationship with a member of my family. The human cost of workplace incidents is a constant reminder that we must do more.

This year's theme for World Day for Safety and Health at Work, as set by the International Labour Organization (ILO), focuses on the 'impacts of climate change on occupational safety and health' and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) echoed these concerns with their theme for Workers' Memorial Day 2024: Climate risk for workers.

The changing climate brings new threats to our workplaces - heatstroke, UV radiation, flooding and extreme weather events to name a few. These threats disrupt operations and require innovative new safety solutions to address. Some emerging technologies try to combat climate-driven risk: there are industries involved in decarbonisation and many more supporting a move to a more sustainable circular economy. But whilst they offer promise, they in themselves can introduce new risk profiles. For example, solar panels and lithium-ion batteries both contain toxic chemicals hazardous to worker health.

Furthermore, climate change (coupled with migration, urbanisation and increased human-animal interaction) raises concerns about novel infectious diseases and the spread of existing ones. We now have first-hand experience of the ongoing impacts of this such as Covid-19, rheumatic fever, tuberculosis, and our rates of meningococcal disease.

We must consider how we can support our organisations to adapt our practices to this changing environment, ensuring worker safety in the face of impacts from climate change and the emerging risks. But of course, NZISM recognises that this is a multifaceted issue, and we are just one part of the solution.

As New Zealand embarks on health and safety reform, it's a chance to re-evaluate how legislation can be a powerful lever for improved outcomes, taking into consideration what our workplaces might look like in the future. And we must continue to support and raise awareness about the importance of developing good health and safety practices.

Let's recommit to a future where every worker can go to work with the knowledge they will return home safely.

Ngā mihi

Robyn Bennett

NZISM President