Universal human rights are derived from respect for human life and the inherent dignity of the person. As signatory to all major United Nations' human rights instruments, New Zealand is a 'human rights State'. However, New Zealand workers experience high levels of occupational accidents and workplace death, particularly in the mining industry where, it appears, profit commonly takes precedence over safety. The Pike River mine explosion, in which 29 men were killed, is an egregious example of the quotidian risks many New Zealand workers face. This subordination of human dignity and life to financial considerations is incompatible with basic human rights principles. In this article, we argue that the current reasonably practicable test for workplace safety is insufficient. If the dignity and lives of workers are to be taken seriously, a benchmark akin to the proportionality test of human rights jurisprudence is indicated.
Barrett, J., & Thomson, L. (2012). Returning dignity to labour: Workplace safety as a human right. New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations, 37(1), 82-89.