Pike River Mine disaster dad's stark warning as WorkSafe cuts back on services

The father of one of the men tragically killed in the Pike River Mine disaster has warned history could repeat itself after news broke of cuts to WorkSafe.

The already stretched agency is cutting back on services to save money but at a risk to the country's workforce.

RNZ understands that jobs at the 760-strong government agency could be on the line as it faces a multi-million-dollar deficit.  

WorkSafe told RNZ four key leaders had left since February, including the national manager of critical response, the head of the general inspectorate, and the national manager of investigations. These roles have not been replaced while WorkSafe determines its "future needs in relation to these roles".

WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes is reported to have told staff "[they're] going to have to do less" and be careful about what they invest in and the decisions they make.

WorkSafe was started in the wake of the Pike River disaster to deal with occupational health and safety.

Twenty-nine men lost their lives when the mine on the West Coast exploded on 19 November 2010.

A Royal Commission on Inquiry into the disaster found that the deaths of the miners were entirely preventable had the proper health and safety systems been in place.

For more than a decade, Bernie Monk has been the face of the Pike River Mine disaster. 

Speaking on behalf of the grieving families Monk told AM the consensus was that the lessons from Pike River haven't been learnt.

"Here today, I am standing in front of you and I'm saying to the country if they take this funding away from these people we are going to reinvent history again."

WorkSafe was created to protect the people in the workplace and if cuts are made it will be "unforgivable", Monk said.

"It's the people that are making the decisions that need to seriously look at themselves and I don't think that this is happening," he said.

In a statement, WorkSafe said it remains committed to developing its strategy and responding to the recommendations of the Strategic Baseline Review. 

"We have reduced our running costs significantly and will continue to look at all options to manage our costs."

It comes as a new report released by the Business Leaders Health And Safety Forum puts the total cost of lost lives, lost earnings and serious injury and health costs from work-related harm in New Zealand at $4.4 billion.

Tragically, in New Zealand, an average of 73 people are killed in work accidents each year - double the rate in Australia.

"New Zealand’s health and safety performance is a nationally significant issue, and demands action from across government and business," Forum CEO Francois Barton said. 

The number of WorkSafe inspectors has fallen from 8.4 per 100,000 workers in 2013, (the stated WorkSafe NZ target), to 6.3 in 2023.

Barton said if New Zealand improved its performance to match Australia, we would reduce our costs by nearly $1 billion each year. 

"We can, and must do better, as business leaders, government and the regulators to change this economic and social toll to our people and our country," Barton said.