Kiwi tradies at risk in construction boom times

13 July 2016

New Zealand's construction boom is good for a tradesman's back pocket, but hand-in-hand with the money comes a busier work schedule and an increased risk of workplace injuries - just as Government tightens up on health and safety laws.

The value of building work increased 15 per cent1 compared to March 2015, with the main driver being residential construction.

Construction boom a double-edged sword for tradesmen

The boom is such that construction was a key driver of GDPat the end of the March quarter in 2016, increasing 4.9 per cent, the highest quarterly growth since March 2015, reports Statistics New Zealand.

Rob Dibley, Head of General Insurance, said that unfortunately construction booms can be a double-edged sword for tradesmen as trades people will find themselves coping with higher workloads, staff shortages and deadline pressures.

"Half of respondents would rather have flights and accommodation for a mystery break (55%) or $1,000 gift card from their favourite store (54%) instead of a year’s worth of life and income protection insurance." - Therese Singleton

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Expect staff shortages in building sector

2016 Hays Construction & NZIOB (New Zealand Institute of Building) Salary Guide3 released in June 2016 said that skills shortages are evident.

"75% of employers say it is ‘very difficult’ or ‘hard’ to recruit Senior Managers. This is followed by Project Managers (72%), Estimators (68%), Forepersons (65%), Quantity Surveyors (64%), Site Managers (62%) and Leading Hands (51%)," the guide said.

"These factors that are present in a construction boom will result in higher workloads for individual businesses and can result in an increased risk of workplace accidents. This could put a tradie out of action, unable to work and relegated to the sidelines while everybody else is making hay while the sun shines," Rob Dibley said.

Up to 34 weeks lost work for some construction workers

A report compiled by ACC and Worksafe New Zealand, titled 'Construction Sector by Numbers'4, warned in 2015 that workloads in the construction industry would be entering a period of unprecedented highs.

"The value of building and construction is forecast to reach unprecedented levels, largely driven by Auckland residential construction. The forecast spend on all construction for the three years to the end of 2017 is $106 billion. "These pressures potentially increase the risks to health and safety."

The three main causes of injuries in the construction sector between 2008 and 2014 – which resulted in between 21 and 34 weeks off work – were lifting, carrying and straining, with injuries to lower back and spine the most common.

Residential builders and trades most at risk

"Injuries are most common among residential builders and those working in the trades," the report said.

Mr Dibley said that the statistics were clear that boom times can raise the risk of injury, but fortunately the increase in earnings makes it possible for tradesmen to 'stop self-insuring' by taking the risk on themselves, and to start exploring viable options for low cost income protection.

Mr Dibley says boom times raise the risk of injury, and with this comes the risk of a health and safety violation which is both distracting and expensive for businesses. 

Workplace accident penalties can cause pain too

"While workplace accidents are bad enough for tradesmen – many who are independent or self-employed contractors, such as builders, plumbers and electricians – the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 serves up some stiff penalties, from five years in prison and a $600,000 fine for individuals to fines of up to $3 million for companies5.

"There is no one product covering all of the liability requirements. There are some packaged products in the market that bring the suite of liability insurances together, but it would be a good idea to seek advice from a professional Adviser or Broker for more information.

"Under the Health & Safety at Work Act insurance cannot indemnify you from a fine (financial penalty) handed on by the courts, however statutory insurance can cover reparation orders and legal costs up to the sum insured," Mr Dibley said.

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