ACTU report: 32 per cent more deaths at work since 2018

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 8 May, 2022 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

One worker is killed every two days on the job in Australia, which is a 32 per cent increase in workplace fatalities and an 8 per cent increase in workplace injuries from 2018, according to a recent ACTU report.

A further 5000 people will die each year from diseases caused by their work and more than 100,000 will be seriously injured and receive workers' compensation, said the report, Morrison missing in action in work health and safety.

The calculations, which were mostly based on Safework Australia’s key WHS statistics Australia 2021 and an ACTU calculation using preliminary fatality figures for 2020 and 2021, also suggested mental health conditions have increased in frequency, rising to 9 per cent of all injuries.

They are also growing in terms of severity with return to work rates climbing from 11.2 weeks (2000-01) to 26.6 weeks (2019-20).

The report also found that 28 per cent of workers injured at work did not take time off work when they needed to, according to statistics from an ACTU Work Shouldn’t Hurt Report – 2021 report, which also found more than half of workers did not take time off because they feared negative consequences for their job.

The ACTU report said both the 2020 Respect@Work Report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins called for changes in the law to improve protections against sexual harassment.

“This is particularly important for working women given that the ACTU’s Work Shouldn’t Hurt report found that one in five (20 per cent) respondents and 37 per cent of young women had experienced some form of gendered based violence and harassment,” the report said. “Disturbingly just one in three (31 per cent) of those respondents who took action to address the violence and harassment were satisfied with the response.”

The report also said insecure work is a major factor in the occurrence of workplace injuries with casual workers facing the highest frequency of work-related injuries for those aged under 55.

“The increase in the number and severity of claims for mental health injuries and respiratory diseases also shows that our systems are not protecting workers,” said the report.

“Those essential workers that helped see us through the pandemic lockdowns have also been particularly affected.”

In December 2018 the Boland Review into the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws were delivered to the Federal Government which urged changes to WHS laws, yet three-and-a-half years later, the report said none of the changes have been implemented.

The ACTU blamed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for these WHS failings and said that prior to the Coalition Government coming to power in 2013, the numbers of workplace fatalities were steadily dropping.

Since then, the report said WHS has stalled and actually reversed since Morrison became Prime Minister in 2018.

“Under this Government, we have seen decades of steady progress in reducing the number of workers killed and seriously injured at work reversed,” said ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien.

“At least 230 workers a year are being diagnosed with silicosis – many as young as 25. It’s 2022 and we’re seeing an increase in workers dying from entirely preventable occupational lung diseases.

“The Morrison Government needs to fix the scourge of insecure work in this country. Workers whose jobs are insecure are less likely to feel like they can raise health and safety issues for fear of negative repercussions.”