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The consequences of getting work health and safety wrong

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

October is National Safe Work Month, making it as timely as ever to discuss work health and safety and, importantly, the consequences of not getting policy and procedures right.

Safe Work Australia recently released the Key Work Health and Safety Statistics Australia, 2023 report, highlighting some shocking statistics.

According to the report, over the last decade, there have been 1,850 traumatic injury fatalities across Australian workplaces. Meanwhile, more than 1,140,000 employees have made a serious workers’ compensation claim involving more than one week of working time lost. That makes up about one in 12 workers.

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While it appears that work health and safety is improving, there is clearly more that can be done. In 2022, there were 195 worker fatalities. That equates to 1.4 deaths per 100,000 workers.

The good news is that these statistics are dropping. In fact, 2022 saw a 30 per cent decrease in the worker fatality rate than 2012. However, there was a 13 per cent increase from 2021, showing more can be done to protect workers.

These fatalities disproportionately affect men. In 2022, 181 men were killed at work, compared to just 14 women. That means men make up 93 per cent of all workplace fatalities. Similarly, older workers were more susceptible to these incidents. Workers aged 45 and over accounted for 63 per cent of all worker fatalities.

Occupationally, the most at risk were machinery operators and drivers, with a fatality rate of 8.4 per 100,000. Coming in second was labourers at 2.9. Surprisingly, managers ranked third at 1.8.

As far as industries go, agriculture, forestry and fishing was the most at risk by a large margin, with a fatality rate of 14.7 per 100,000. Trailing was transport, postal and warehousing at 9.5 and electricity, gas, water and waste services at 3.

Vehicle incidents made up the vast majority (42 per cent) of fatalities. Next was being hit by moving objects (13 per cent), being hit by falling objects (9 per cent), and falls from height (9 per cent).

State by state, some areas did better than others in Australia. The ACT saw the best results, with just 0.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers. On the other hand, Western Australia saw 2.2 per 100,000. NSW and Victoria saw 1.2 and 1.1, respectively.

The consequences of these work-related illnesses and injuries are significant. In fact, according to Safe Work, if these problems were to stop, the economy would be $28.6 billion stronger, we’d have 185,000 additional full-time equivalent jobs, and all workers would see a 1.3 per cent wage rise.

Employers must realise that injuries, illnesses, and fatalities are not only traumatising for the victims and their loved ones, but they also affect us all. Getting health and safety policies right and working hard to eliminate unsafe practices is essential.

Safe Work concluded: “When a worker experiences a work-related injury or illness, it is not only the individual and their community that suffers; it is the wider Australian workforce that loses the opportunity to access more and better jobs with higher wages.”

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.