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New book documents spate of railway fatalities


The appalling rate of death and injury on New Zealand’s railways in the 1990s was ‘the story of de-regulation and privatisation’, a new book reveals.

Marking Workers Memorial Day, Wellington health and safety barrister Hazel Armstrong will today launch Your life for the job: New Zealand rail safety 1974 - 2000.

The book documents the spate of fatalities that lead up to the 2000 Tranz Rail inquiry. Five workers died in twelve months leading up to May 2000. Eleven died between 1995 and 2000.

The book is very timely with the aftermath of Pike River and its inquiry, and draws strong connections with that disaster, Hazel Armstrong said.

"The story behind these avoidable deaths, and many near misses, is the story of de-regulation and privatisation, and their impact on work safety," Hazel Armstrong said.

"My book tells of the havoc created within New Zealand’s rail system by bankers and entrepreneurs, of managers who eschewed safety practices, of government regulators taking a back seat, and of the law being shaped to protect the employer."

"What is particularly distressing, for none more than the families of the 29 men who lost their lives at Pike River, was that the lessons of the Tranz Rail inquiry have still not been learnt and transferred to other dangerous industries."

"Both the 2000 Tranz Rail inquiry and the 2012 Pike River inquiry illustrate what happens when regulators are ineffective and are captured by the employer; Parliament are prepared to compromise worker health and safety for some other end-game and directors and managers turn a blind eye to hazards."

The final report from the government’s health and safety taskforce is due this coming Tuesday 30 April, and Hazel Armstrong said that she would be watching the release of this document with interest, to see the extent to which our workplace health and safety laws will be strengthened.