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Worker Fatalities Drop, But Death Rate Remains High


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Photo courtesy of Cory Cullington | Procore

There have been 19 construction-related deaths to August this year, according to the National Safe Work Australia figures released in September—down from 23 deaths at the same time last year. 

The reduction in deaths is positive. However, the construction sector still records the third highest fatality rate behind the transport, postal and warehousing sector at 29 and the agricultural, forestry and fisheries industry at 27.

While encouraging Australians to use the trends, comparisons, and industry breakdowns within its reports, Diane Smith-Gander, Safe Work Australia’s Chair, says it is vital to look beyond the statistics: 

“Understanding the national work-related injury, disease and fatality statistics can help reduce work-related fatalities, injury, illness and disease”, said Ms Smith-Gander.

“While there is a 47 per cent decrease in the national workplace fatality rate since 2007, there were still 191 workplace fatalities."

“While there is a 47 per cent decrease in the national workplace fatality rate since 2007, there were still 191 workplace fatalities,” said Ms Smith-Gander, referring to all workplace deaths for 2017, “and every worker fatality is one too many.”

Safe Work Australia’s industry snapshot for construction (published in June 2018) found that construction fatalities are relatively high with three deaths per 100,000 workers, and 8.1, serious claims per million hours worked. 

Although the figure has reduced by 20 per cent over the last 10 years, the construction services sub-sector still accounts for 63.7 per cent of serious claims and 62 per cent of worker fatalities. Falls from a height made up the most fatalities in the sector (30 per cent), while muscular stress from lifting, carrying or putting down objects accounted for the highest proportion of serious claims (16 per cent).

Older workers aged 55–64 represented the highest number of fatalities and serious claims (22 per cent of deaths and 9.9 serious claims per million hours worked), followed by the younger cohort of people aged 25–34 making up 21 per cent of the fatalities.  

Safe Work Australia recently released an initiative to raise awareness of workplace health and safety risks for tradespeople, helping employers to ensure their team is safe.

Safe Work Australia’s CEO Michelle Baxter explains that the organisation has sought to empower employers with information: “According to the latest WHS (Work Health and Safety) statistics, tradies make up almost one-third of Australia’s workforce. However, they also represent over half of the country’s serious workers’ compensation claims,” she said.

“Injuries that tradies often experience include traumatic joint/ligament and muscle/tendon injuries. Most distressingly, almost 50 tradies a year die from vehicle incidents.”

Safe Work Australia is sharing resources on tradies’ health and safety by publishing a collection of data, videos, resources and information on its website. 

"Deadlines are serious, but injuries and fatalities are worse.”

“We want every tradie to go home safe. For more information and guidance on WHS in the trade industry, contact the local WHS regulator in your area,” said Ms Baxter. “Serious injuries and fatalities will end up costing you more if you take shortcuts. Deadlines are serious, but injuries and fatalities are worse.”

The body collates statistics on fatalities, injuries and compensation claims. It also develops and implements national as well as education and communication strategies and initiatives to support improvements in Work Health and Safety Outcomes and workers compensation arrangements.

Employers can find a wealth of information on safety issues by topic, such as asbestos, safety data sheets and hazardous chemicals, as well as safety issues by industry; workplace health and safety contacts in each state; fact sheets on managing safety issues; and model codes of practice.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars you may enjoy:

The Future of Construction Safety

Building a Culture of Safety - One Hard Hat at a Time

Construction Quality and Safety: Reducing Rework While Achieving Zero Incidents and Accidents

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