In Harm's Way: A case study of Pacific Workers in Manukau Manufacturing - At a glance
Two occupational health and safety focus areas for the Department of Labour are the manufacturing industry and the Pacific people in New Zealand. This research sits across both these areas and examined the injury reporting rates of Pacific workers in Manukau manufacturing. The findings of this research have informed the Department of Labour’s ‘Manufacturing Sector Action Plan to 2013’ and fed into the future work of the Puataunofo Manukau Project.
In New Zealand, the manufacturing industry accounted for 16.9 percent of the total claims to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) work account in the second quarter of 2010, the most of all industries. The manufacturing industry is a large employer of the Pacific workforce in New Zealand, with 20.0 percent of the Pacific workforce working in the industry in the second quarter in 2010. Therefore, the manufacturing industry provided a good site for exploring whether there were differences in occupational injuries between ethnic groups within a particular industry.
Within the manufacturing industry in New Zealand Pacific people have consistently had higher injury reporting rates than other ethnic groups. In the December 2009 quarter, the injury rate for Pacific manufacturing workers was 45.1 injury claims per 1,000 employed. The next highest rate was for New Zealand European manufacturing workers at 35.1 injury claims per 1,000 employed.
Not just Occupational Risk
Occupation has been shown by international literature to contribute to the risk of injury at work. Labouring is a higher risk occupation within manufacturing. Pacific people are twice as likely to be employed as labourers within Manukau than non-Pacific workers. However our research found that the injury rates for Pacific people within this occupation group are much higher. Within the Labourers occupation, the injury rate for Pacific manufacturing workers (68.2 injuries reported for every 1,000 people employed) is twice that of non-Pacific manufacturing workers (34.6 injuries reported for every 1,000 people employed). The difference between these injury rates suggests it is not just exposure to risk that is solely responsible for the higher injury rates of Pacific workers in this industry.
Figure 1: ACC claim rates in manufacturing in Manukau, by selected occupation, 2009
Type of Injury
Pacific people were under-represented in fatalities in Manukau Manufacturing, with NZ Europeans having the highest number of workplace deaths. ‘Lifting, lowering, loading, or unloading’ was the most common activity workers were undertaking prior to the injuries recorded across the ethnic spectrum, and the most common cause of injury was ‘lifting, carrying or strain’. Findings are limited by data recording in this area, however, the cause of injury and activity prior to injury were consistent across all ethnic groups.
The qualitative interviews identified that an underlying issue in higher injury rates for Pacific workers in manufacturing is poor communication, due to:
- a one-size-fits-all approach to training despite difference in learning preferences language barriers
- literacy of staff
- a lack of cultural awareness on the part of employers
- disengagement among Pacific staff.
Communication issues have led to:
- training and health and safety messaging (including signage) that is not appropriately delivered to Pacific workers.
- reluctance to report minor injuries
Training came through as an area that could really benefit staff if improvements are made. In particular, five areas were identified:
- frequency of training for all staff
- training for staff who transfer jobs
- translation of training resources into the first languages of staff
- pictorial signage (as opposed to words) using universal images
- method of delivery, particularly using smaller groups in hands-on settings
Employer representatives stated that there had been significant improvements in health and safety practices in the past four to five years. The practices of firms were viewed to be influenced, in part, by union presence in the workplace. Participants felt that unions had a two-fold positive influence on health and safety, through being a vehicle for training and dissemination as well as pushing for better practices from employers.
Although employers were aware of the communication issues, there was a diverse range of responses. Some did not address the issues at all, while others employed informal procedures such as having a Samoan member of staff translate health and safety messages for those who did not speak English fluently. There was little evidence of a systematic approach to any of the issues, though some employers conducted training sessions in smaller groups periodically to create a more accessible environment for Pacific workers. This type of training was reportedly successful for employers and staff.
The Puataunofo Manukau Project (PMP) is a collaborative effort involving Department of Labour, ACC, Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, and community groups that is currently making strides in the area of Health and Safety training in Manukau. The group have been involved throughout this research. It is the most appropriate vehicle for implementing improvements, particularly to training. Much of the findings and recommendations for future work from this research will be applied to the work of PMP.