Preventable work accidents cost the construction industry dearly

Aches and pains are now part of everyday life for roofer Ben Clisby.

“As you get older things hurt more and it takes a lot longer to recover, I definitely could have been a lot smarter when I was younger,” he told 1News.

Working for his family business ProTech Roofing for over 23 years, his body has paid the price for his trade.

“I had a lot of cuts, stitches, tore cartilage in my knee and I was only 30,” Clisby said.

Construction-related injuries are taking their toll on the industry, with projects sitting unfinished as workers take time to recuperate.

Clisby was forced to stop tools for three weeks to recover from surgery for what the industry calls “roofer’s knee”.

He said that put the company under pressure.

“If you lose key people to your business, you won’t get the production you need.”

Soft tissue injury claims in the construction industry have increased over the past five years.

The ACC accepted 17,871 soft tissue injury claims in 2020, which would have resulted in 578,562 days off work.

It is estimated that he halted the construction of 338 two-bedroom houses, left 1 million square meters of roofing uninstalled and 2 million square meters of scaffolding unerected.

ACC injury prevention manager James Whitaker said 90% of those injuries are preventable.

“It can be really sad and stressful for people, especially if they’re seriously injured,” he said.

This prompted ACC to fund the “Work Should Not Hurt” program run by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ).

The program offers tips and tricks focused on the ergonomics of trades from roofing to plumbing.

“Things like getting your work off the ground, using tables, reducing the amount of work at height and of course finding better ways to lift and move things,” said Chris Polaczuk, CHASNZ program manager and ergonomist.

He said the sector was facing increasing pressure to get work done, creating the “perfect storm” for on-site injuries.

“The lack of materials, all the deadlines were crushed, the lack of craftsmen.”

He hopes the ‘The Job Shouldn’t Work’ scheme will help change the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude as record numbers of apprentices enter the industry.

“We have to take care of them, the new trades that are coming are invaluable.”

He said it takes a long-term commitment to prevent the attrition that many workers experience at the end of their careers.

“We have to house our communities all over New Zealand, so working in this residential sector is crucial.”