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Search Google NZ for Coroner recommends and you'll find:
- Coroner recommends quad-bikes be equipped with rotational towballs
- Coroner recommends that all farm houses be fenced off. "Mr Scott called for farmers and Labour Department officials to lobby the government to make fencing compulsory on all farms"
- Coroner recommends age restrictions on butane and other possible inhalants.
- Coroner recommends people wear hard hats when climbing ladders to prune trees (whether they should be required when doing other things on ladders is not discussed)
- Coroner recommends that the refrigeration industry develop guidelines for safe storage of explosive refrigerants
- Coroner recommends compulsory spot checks of children up to the age of 5
- Coroner recommends the Government urgently assess media guidelines on reporting of suicide
- Coroner recommends changes to design of future prisons
- Coroner recommends MoH strengthen guidelines on safe sleeping practices for newborns
- Coroner recommends review of CT scans (to use them more often)
- Coroner recommends respite care review
- Coroner recommends that you should have to have a licence to rent a nail gun
- Coroner recommends licensing of outdoor education / adventure tourism operators
- Coroner recommends clearing trees near train crossings
- Coroner recommends changes to privacy laws
- Coroner recommends restrictions on access to glaciers
- Coroner recommends DHB review suicide assessment procedures
- Coroner recommends more training for mechanics
- Coroner recommends national manhole safety guidelines
- Coroner recommends helmets for riders of motorised skateboards
- Coroner recommends crowd control training for all airport staff
- Coroner recommends mandatory high visibility clothing (not just vests) for cyclists
- And, over and over: Coroner recommends warning labels on Coke
The Coroners Act 2006 empowers coroners:
to make specified recommendations or comments (as defined in section 9) that, in the coroner's opinion, may, if drawn to public attention, reduce the chances of the occurrence of other deaths in circumstances similar to those in which the death occurred;
Persons appointed as Coroner "must have held a practising certificate as a barrister or solicitor for at least 5 years."
I'm sure that these are all smart and diligent people. I'm also sure that there is no required training in cost-benefit analysis in a legal degree.
The problem seems to be in the Act. Pretty much anything that could reduce the chances of particular forms of death can be recommended; there's no consideration anywhere of costs. It's fine to say that that's Parliament's job. But Coronorial recommendations carry some weight - people take them as being something more than "This is something that could save lives, but I have no clue whether it's worth it because I have zero training in policy assessment and cost-benefit analysis, so somebody else better figure out whether we'd be wasting a whole ton of resources in enacting it; moreover, the Act specifically asks me to just name any darned thing that might help even if it would cost a trillion dollars and save a life every fifty years."
I'd be willing to bet that a reasonable proportion of the above recommendations would fail any serious cost-benefit analysis. Mandatory high vis clothing for cyclists, licenses for nail guns, and mandatory skateboard helmets all seem exceptionally unlikely to pass any kind of "is this a reasonable policy" test.
This economist recommends that either Coroners get training in cost-benefit analysis, or start noting the limitations of their recommendations.
The Chief Coroner wants it mandatory that government respond to Coroner recommendations. I would hope that the default response would be "The value of a statistical life for policy purposes in New Zealand is $3.8 million; the policy seems exceptionally likely to impose costs in excess of $3.8 million per statistical life saved. Please go away and come back with something reasonable."
Dr Eric Crampton is Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Canterbury. He blogs at Offsetting Behaviour.
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