Safe Work Australia: WHS fines total $23.73 million over 2019-2020

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.
Thursday, 9 December, 2021 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

In 2019-20, WHS authorities across Australia undertook 234,917 workplace interventions, issued 55,210 WHS breach notices and finalised 283 legal proceedings, resulting in $23.73 million in court-ordered fines.

A recent Safe Work Australia comparative WHS and workers’ compensation performance monitoring report found that the $23.7 million in fines was an increase of 27 per cent compared to the previous year.

Three jurisdictions accounted for 93 per cent of this total: NSW with $9 million of fines (a 151 per cent increase from the previous year) followed by Victoria with $7.7 million (an increase of 11 per cent from the previous year) and Queensland with $5.5 million (a 9 per cent decrease).

The 283 legal proceedings against duty holders represented an 8 per cent decrease in the overall number of legal proceedings finalised compared to the previous year.

Overall, there was a 6 per cent decrease in the finalised legal proceedings that have resulted in a conviction, order or agreement in 2019-20 from the previous year (from 264 proceedings in 2018-19 to 249 proceedings in 2019-20).

In line with the requirements under the model WHS laws, the report noted some jurisdictions have created infringement notice schemes for certain offences and 55,210 such notices were issued.

Overall, the total number of notices remained relatively unchanged from the previous year (2018-19), where 55,565 notices were issued. In 2019-20 there were 1782 infringement notices issued (up 19 per cent since 2018-19), 47,270 improvement notices issued (down 2 per cent since 2018-19) and 6158 prohibition notices issued (up 5 per cent since 2018-19).

Of the 234,917 workplace interventions undertaken by jurisdictional WHS authorities, the report said 35 per cent were reactive intervention activities (such as desk-based audits, meetings, telephone advice and written correspondence directly related to the resolution of an incident or complaint), a further 35 per cent were proactive workplace visits and 26 per cent were reactive workplace visits.

The overall Australian incidence rate for serious claims has also remained steady at around 9.5 claims per 1000 employees over the past four financial years (2015-16 to 2018-19), however, the preliminary result for 2019-20 shows an increase in the incidence rate (9.9 claims per 1000 employees).

The overall Australian frequency rate of serious claims has been relatively stable in recent years, moving between 5.9 claims per million hours worked in 2014-15 to 5.8 in 2018-19.

The incidence rate of long-term (12 weeks or more compensation) injury and disease claims in Australia between 2014-15 and 2018-19 has increased in recent years to a rate of 3.6 claims per 1000 employees.

The overall Australian frequency rate of long-term claims has increased by 14 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19, and preliminary data showed that the Australian frequency rate of long-term serious claims increased from 2.0 to 2.2 claims per million hours worked.

Total expenditure for workers’ compensation schemes across Australia in 2019-20 was $9.884 billion, and over the past five years scheme expenditure has increased by 19 per cent.

The disputation rate has decreased by 26 per cent since 2015-16 although the disputes received have taken longer to resolve.

This report complements the Comparison of workers’ compensation arrangements in Australia and New Zealand report and the agency’s annual statistical reports.