Most strategic plans made by OHS regulators in Australia are based on workers’ compensation statistics. Everyone agrees that this is a huge underestimation of the work-related injury and illness rates but no one yet has tackled this information deficiency.
Australia’s OHS harmonisation might attempt this but it will not be until the government harmonises the States’ workers’ compensation system that Australians can have unified and consistent statistics. Yet even then, the reliance on workers’ compensation data will continue to understate the significance of work-related injuries on the community.
The Australian inaction contrasts to activity undertaken in the United States by the Government Audit Office (GAO). An October 2009 report by the GAO, released online on 16 November and discussed in blogs and one US newspaper, shows the state of OHS statistical play in the US through its audit of the operations of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- OSHA only audits 250 of the 130,000 high hazard worksites each year.
- All of the data available is provided by employers. Workers are not interviewed.
- If the worker has left the company’s employment, they are unable to be interviewed.
- “OSHA also does not review the accuracy of injury and illness records for worksites in eight high hazard industries because it has not updated the industry codes used to identify these industries since 2002. “
- Statistics supplied to the Bureau of Labor Statistics by employers are not verified. (BLS is not required to do this)
- The GAO identified disincentives on both employers and employees for reporting illnesses and injuries – potential job loss, fear of increasing workers’ compensation premiums or losing out on work contracts.
- The disincentives may lead to a reduced medical treatment so as to avoid injury reporting and the issues associated with the reporting. (A third of health practitioners interviewed admitted to being pressured about workplace injuries)
On this last point, those OHS professionals who advocate safety incentive schemes may wish to consider the graphic below
Of the 47% who said they were pressured to downplay injuries and illnesses, over 60% were from workplace s that had incentive programs. This is a serious statistic that incentive advocates must address in their programs.
Australia has tried to gain greater accuracy to OHS data over many years. The (then) National OHS Commission published several very useful statistical reports into various industries but they could not provide an easily understood national picture because of State variations on reporting criteria. Australia is much less complex than the US and the task of achieving better OHS statistics should be easier, as long as there is the political will.
The importance of accurate statistics in decision-making at the policy level as well as that at individual workplaces cannot be overstated. The GAO report summarises the significance in its report.
“Accurate injury and illness records are important because they assist Congress, researchers, OSHA, BLS, and other agencies in describing the nature and extent of occupational safety and health problems. These records are also vital to helping employers and workers identify and correct safety and health problems in the workplace. In addition, these records help OSHA evaluate programs, allocate resources, and set and enforce safety and health standards. Without accurate records, employers engaged in hazardous activities can avoid inspections because OSHA bases many of its safety inspections on work-related injury and illness rates.”
My thanks to Workplace Professor Blog for bringing the report to our attention.