12 Sep 2013

Report urges Defence safety changes

11:10 pm on 12 September 2013

A wide-ranging review prompted by a series of high-profile deaths in the Defence Force is calling for urgent changes in the military's approach to health and safety, saying it takes a sometimes casual approach to safety.

The authors of an independent report released on Thursday have recommended 20 changes to the way the military approaches health and safety and says some of them need urgent attention.

The Defence Force commissioned the report in the wake of several fatal accidents, including the drowning of Private Michael Ross during a training exercise last year.

Private Michael Ross.

Private Michael Ross. Photo: DEFENCE FORCE

Earlier this year a Court of Inquiry found that multiple systemic failures contributed to Private Ross's death.

Three men were killed in 2010 when their Iroquois helicopter crashed in low cloud near Wellington on the way to Anzac Day commemorations. A subsequent military court of inquiry uncovered an Air Force culture of rule-breaking and inadequately trained squadrons.

As well as eight combat deaths in Afghanistan, 15 members of the Defence Force have died in non-combat situations over the last decade.

The three-person review panel found a mindset in the Defence Force that because deployments in the field can be dangerous, training should be equally dangerous.

Garry Wilson, the former ACC chief executive who headed the panel, says up to a quarter of some army units could not be actively deployed at any one time because they had sports or training injuries.

He says the Defence Force does have good safety procedures for the most dangerous types of training, such as parachuting.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says avoidable deaths in the military are unacceptable and he expects the Defence Force to act on the recommendations of an independent report.

Dr Coleman says the military is already improving its health and safety, but there's still more work to be done.

He says he expects significant progress on the recommendations over the next year and will be asking for frequent updates.

Wakeup call - Labour

Labour Party defence spokesperson Phil Goff says the report is a wake-up call to the military and the Government.

Mr Goff says it's unacceptable that up to a quarter of some Army units can't be deployed because of sports or training injuries.

He says he's alarmed by other findings too.

"It shows that 5% of life jackets in the Navy didn't have inflation devices attached to them. That was the very factor that led to the death of Private Michael Ross. Again that's a statistic that cannot be sustained. It's an appalling indictment on the Defence Force and the Government."

Mr Goff says a report that was done two years ago raised similar safety concerns but the Government failed to act.