The Minister of Labour is warning that 50 people could die in the next six years during the rebuild of earthquake-hit Christchurch if the construction industry does not improve its safety record.
Kate Wilkinson was citing research from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and says about a quarter of the deaths could be on building sites and the rest due to other accidents or industrial diseases such as respiratory problems.
The ministry's report also found the potential for 600,000 hours to be lost to injury and illness.
Ms Wilkinson says an independent taskforce is reviewing how workplace safety is monitored - but it is ultimately up to employers to ensure that their workers are kept safe.
"The legislative responsibility is with the employer. Having said that, since the Pike River (mine) disaster, we have actually injected another $37 million into health and safety which will boost up the inspectorate by twenty percent."
Ms Wilkinson says the newly established high hazards unit will ensure there are safety inspectors with specialist knowledge of workplaces such as mines.
The minister's comments deeply trouble the Accident Compensation Corporation, which would have to meet much of the cost of the accidents.
ACC says New Zealand's industrial safety record is worse than that of the Netherlands, Germany or Britain.
It is calling for zero tolerance of workplace dangers during the Christchurch rebuild, as happened during construction of Olympic Games facilities in London.
The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union says workers have the right to say that work is dangerous and they will not do it.
However, it says a culture change is needed to make sure that people who complain are not ridiculed.