Article by Michael Tooma, Alena Titterton and Laura Maytom
On 12 March 2009, the Australian Safety and Compensation Council released the latest Compendium of Workers Compensation Statistics Report analysing accepted workers' compensation claims, breaking down compensated work-related injury and disease amongst Australian employees between 2000-01 and 2006-07 (the Report).
The Report provides preliminary data for the 2006-07 year including that there have been 236 compensated fatalities. While the number of fatalities has decreased by 21% over the period from 2000-01 to 2005-06, there was little change in the number of fatalities in 2004-05 (255 fatalities) and 2005-06 (254 fatalities) demonstrating a decline in the rate of improvement.
Industries with the highest fatality rates were as follows:
|Industry||Number of fatalities||Percentage of all compensated fatalities|
|Transport and storage||45 (with 31 in road freight transport)||19%|
|Property and business services||15||6%|
The transport industry will focus on the data demonstrating that intermediate production and transport workers accounted for 30% of fatalities in the preliminary data from the 2006-07 year with truck drivers accounting for almost two-thirds of those, perhaps demonstrating that the chain of responsibility legislation for the heavy vehicle truck driving industry introduced throughout Australia has yet to filter through to improvements in safety outcomes.
The Report indicates that the national incidence rate for all industries in 2006-07 was 14 claims per 1000 employees. However, four industries exhibited incidence rates substantially above the national rate of 14 claims per 1000 employees:
- Manufacturing (28 claims per 1,000 employees);
- Transport and storage (26 claims per 1,000 employees);
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing (25 claims per 1,000 employees); and
- Construction (22 claims per 1,000 employees).
All industries recorded falls in incidence rates over the six year period reported, though the wholesale trade industry only recorded a 1% fall. The electricity, gas and water supply industry recorded the largest percentage fall in incidence rates over the six year period, with a staggering 43% fall from 14.6 in 2000-01 to 8.3 in 2005-06, now well below the national average for incidence rates.
Over the period 2000-01 to 2005-06, the number of serious claims decreased 6% from 144,740 claims to 136,575.
On average, 86% of all serious claims were injury and musculoskeletal disorder claims. The Report indicates a 7% decrease in this group (from 126,915 claims in 2000–01 to 117,930 in 2005–06) which would seem to support the assertion that the rate of improvement is too slow to meet the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012 target of a 40% reduction in the incidence rate of injury and musculoskeletal claims.1
The most common injuries resulting in serious claims were:
- Sprains and strains of joints and adjacent muscles – 41.1% of all serious claims;
- Fractures – 8.4% of all serious claims;
- Open wounds (not involving traumatic amputation) – 8.4% of all serious claims; and
- Disorders of muscle, tendons and other soft tissues – 7.1% of all serious claims.
Falls, trips and slips of a person continue to be over-represented in the statistics with little change to their prevalence. Falls, trips and slips are the second most common mechanism resulting in serious injuries, consistently representing around 20% of all serious claims between 2000-01 and 2005-06.
Further incentives required
While many of the statistics show falling incidence rates, the rate of improvement is too slow to meet national targets. A picture is emerging, in both the release of the Report and the statistics reported in the most recent Comparative Performance Monitoring Report, 10th Edition that current OHS strategies are not achieving the targeted outcomes for improvements in OHS performance which have been set by the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012, which begs the question – is the existing regulatory regime working? Australia remains ranked as 6th for OHS performance behind Switzerland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway and Denmark.
The results demonstrate the need for additional mechanisms to be used in the approach to current regulatory efforts to improve safety performance. As the economic climate continues to dominate the focus of business operations, industry needs more effective incentives to encourage safety expenditure to ensure that the reduction of workplace injuries does not continue at such a slow pace or plateau in Australian workplaces. Governments in this economic climate should investigate the introduction of tax concessions for safety expenditure in Australian workplaces to drive further improvements in Australia's safety performance.
1 We note that data from the recently released Comparative Performance Monitoring Report, 10th Edition (which uses a different base line to the workers compensation compendium statistics) shows that the 16% improvement recorded from the base period up to 2006–07 is below the rate of improvement required to meet the target of a 40% reduction by June 2012.
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