Injury management

Ensuring safe work environments: addressing Australia’s work health and safety challenges

Australia, a nation known for its vibrant economy and quality of life, also grapples with pressing concerns regarding work health and safety.

The recently released ‘Key Work Health and Safety Statistics Australia 2023‘ report by Safe Work Australia (2023) sheds light on the current state of workplace safety in the country.

While there are encouraging trends, the statistics reveal that there is still much work to be done to ensure that everyone returns home safely from work.

Over the past decade, more than 1.1 million workers have made serious workers’ compensation claims, involving over a week of lost working time. Alarmingly, approximately one in every 12 workers in Australia has made such a claim.

These numbers serve as a stark reminder of the importance of continuously improving workplace safety measures.

Rise of work-related mental health issues

One of the most concerning trends highlighted in the report is the rise in work-related mental health conditions. These conditions not only result in longer periods of time off work, more than four times longer than other injuries, but they are also on the rise.

Mental health-related claims constituted 9.2% of total claims in 2021-22, marking a 43.3% increase over the past decade. The report also highlights the significant financial burden that mental health-related claims place on employers.

Workplace mental health conditions lead to significantly more time off work and higher compensation payments compared to physical injuries and diseases.

Addressing these issues does not only provide fiscal benefits, as managing psychosocial risks not only protects workers but also leads to lower staff turnover, reduced absenteeism, and improved organisational performance and productivity.

Reducing the number of fatalities

Workplace fatalities are another troubling aspect that remains persistent in the data. An overwhelming 93% of worker fatalities are male, and the occupation with the highest number of fatalities is machinery operators and drivers.

Additionally, 42% of all worker fatalities involve vehicles, highlighting the importance of stringent safety measures, especially in transportation and heavy industry.

In response to these challenges, the Australian government has released a new 10-year strategy aimed at reducing workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses.

This strategy recognises the need to manage psychosocial risks, adapt to new types of work, and address the psychological and cognitive burdens associated with the evolving demands of the modern workforce.

Employers are key

Employers have a crucial role to play in ensuring workplace safety. They should regularly update their Work Health and Safety (WHS) systems, apply the hierarchy of controls, and assess and address psychosocial hazards.

Safe Work Australia has developed model WHS regulations and a Code of Practice for managing psychosocial hazards at work.

These regulations now include specific guidelines on addressing psychosocial hazards, providing employers with practical steps to manage workplace risks to psychological health.

These resources can be found here: Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.

While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to protect the wellbeing of workers across the country.

Employers, government agencies, and workers must collaborate to address these challenges and make Australian workplaces safer for all.

Every work-related fatality is a tragedy, and it is our collective responsibility to prevent them and ensure that everyone gets home safely.

Curtis Guglielmana
National Operations Manager

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