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Injury and illness contributing to tens of thousands of working years lost

By Kace O'Neill | |5 minute read
Injury And Illness Contributing To Tens Of Thousands Of Working Years Lost

A new study by Monash University has discovered that Australia loses 41,194 work years annually due to work-related injury, disease, and mental health conditions.

Close to 41,000 lost jobs were calculated by Monash University, which developed the new “working years lost” (WYL) metric to measure the national burden of work-based injury, illness, and disease.

“Normally, we track injury and disease at work by counting the number of people making compensation claims or the amount of time they spend off work,” said Professor Alex Collie from Monash University’s school of public health and preventive medicine.


The study homed in on an occupational health measure that takes both the incidence and the impact of occupational injury and disease into account, finding that compensable injury and disease results in more than 41,000 WYL each year, by about 150,000 workers.

“This new measure combines those two concepts and presents it as something more meaningful, which can be summarised as the number of people off work for a full year,” said Collie.

The basis of employment has considerable health benefits for Australians across a wide range of sectors. Lower risk of depression, better physical health, lower public health care expenditure, and lower age-specific mortality were some of the benefits listed in the report that a job can offer.

However, being unable to work due to injury and illness can contribute to poorer mental health, shorter life expectancy, chronic back pain, and a greater risk of suicide. Many health conditions can impair an individual’s ability to work, yet occupational injury and disease were involved in 1.88 million deaths across the world; the estimated economic impact of occupational injury and disease was $61.8 billion in Australia during 2012–13.

Collie explained that the WYL metric provided a different view of the challenges that can arise from these occupational illnesses and injuries.

“The impact of some types of injury and disease are more accurately represented in this new metric,” said Collie.

“For instance, mental health conditions have a much higher percentage of working years lost than of workers’ compensation claims. This is because we take the long time off work for each mental health claim into account, whereas simply counting claims does not do this.”

The study utilised the statistics of people with accepted workers’ compensation claims and those who received wage replacement benefits for time of work, lodged between July 2012 and June 2017.

The breakdown for the WYL is as follows:

  • Male workers incurred 25,367 WYL (61.6 per cent).
  • Female workers accounted for 15,827 WYL (38.4 per cent).
  • A total of 21,763 WYL were from workers over 45 (52.8 per cent).
  • Traumatic injury resulted in 16,494 WYL per annum (40 per cent).
  • Musculoskeletal disorders resulted in 8,547 WYL (20.7 per cent).
  • Mental health conditions resulted in 5,361 WYL (13 per cent).

“The distribution of burden reflects the higher labour force participation of males, slower rehabilitation in older workers, and the relative impact of common occupational injuries and diseases. Effective occupational health surveillance, policy development and resource allocation will benefit from population-based monitoring of working time loss,” Collie said.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.