Targeting the most dangerous industries but not those with the most deaths

On 4 July 2011, WorkSafe Victoria released a media notice entitled “WorkSafe to target state’s most dangerous industries“.  (The title of the media release currently available on-line has been changed from “dangerous” to “risky”.)  Below are the industries that WorkSafe considers the most dangerous:

  • Food manufacturing and processing,
  • wood product manufacturing,
  • fabricated metal,
  • transport equipment manufacturing,
  • plastics and rubber manufacturing,
  • road transport,
  • warehousing and storage and
  • residential aged care services.

WorkSafe advised SafetyAtWorkBlog on 4 July, that these eight industries were chosen as the targets for an OHS enforcement blitz because in 2010 these sectors generated 7,075 workers’ compensation claims.  2,808 of the claims related to manual handling injuries.

On 29 June 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released its latest Social Trend data on Work and Health.  It provides the following perspective on workplace fatalities:

“Workplace fatalities were more common among those who worked in blue collar occupations.  In 2009-10, almost three-quarters of those who died in workplace accidents worked as either Intermediate Production and Transport Workers (36 deaths), Tradespersons and Related Workers (23), or Labourers and Related Workers (21).  The most common cause of fatalities in 2009-10 were vehicle incidents (23 deaths), followed by falls from a height (18), being hit by moving objects (17), and being hit by falling objects (17).  These were consistently the most common causes of workplace deaths, accounting for around two-thirds of all workplace fatalities since 2003-04.”

There seems to be little correlation between the level of workplace fatalities identified by the ABS and the eight “most dangerous industries” identified by WorkSafe Victoria.

There has always been a tension between the enforcement targets of OHS regulators that are, more often than not, based on workers’ compensation claims data and the level of enforcement allocated to workplace sectors that have the highest level of death and serious injury.  It is suggested that community expectations would be that the prevention of death is more significant for attention that back injuries.  The public would most likely equate danger with death.

OHS regulators would likely say that workers’ compensation data is the only reliable data they have for targeting and this may be the case but targeting on this basis also implies that injury prevention is more often about cost reduction than the reduction in pain and suffering or the preservation of a fair and reasonable quality of life.

That WorkSafe has changed the title of the media release from “dangerous” to “risky” could be dismissed as an exercise in semantics but it reminds us that occupational health and safety is an emotionally charged profession and discipline.  When safety goes wrong, people are injured and damaged, and lives change.

WorkSafe executives have an unenviable task of balancing the economic with the social when talking about safety and when determining enforcement strategies.

Kevin Jones

5 thoughts on “Targeting the most dangerous industries but not those with the most deaths”

  1. It\’s surprising that people still think OHS is mainly about preventing deaths. How about having a chat to someone who\’s been scalped, lost a limb, burned, has constant pain from a back injury or suffers flashbacks years on. I imagine most who have been hurt would rather not be in that position and that there workplace had been safer. If reducing the number of injuries also keeps the workers comp part of the system viable that\’s a win-win for all.

  2. I suppose my question to WorkSafe would be a different take – regardless of how we or WorkSafe might define the most dangerous or risky industries – as a concept I have no problem with that being the target ( we may argue about which industries they are/should be) – but my question is – that if this is the new target – what have they been doing until now – targeting low risk industries ???

  3. C\’mon Kevin, we all know that while a regulator controls both OH&S and Workers Comp, that WC will always win. WC is the pot of gold, the cash cow that could also cost them money if not managed correctly. Whilst we care about deaths, deaths are relatively rare. Injuries are very common. And lets face it, a death costs them about $600,000 tops, whereas a serious injury, say manual handling injury or crush injury, could cost a lot more to the scheme.

    I\’m not saying its right, its perhaps a little cynical, but they have a business to run, and they are interested in protecting margins and saving businesses on premium. Sad, but true.

    1. Sad Reality, workers\’ compensation may be a \”cash cow\” but several readers have told me that using workers\’ compensation data for enforcement targeting is also because long-term injury and disability is just that, long term, and therefore costly.

  4. I was once told that there are many things in life that are worse than death.

    My work over many years with injured workers who have injuries that are life shattering proves this to me time and time again.
    For instance injured workers who have been involved in multiple hold-ups in their workplace, and now these people are so fearful that they can not leave their own home.

    Or a worker who has a body so broken that they require an exo-skeleton just to be able to stand, and they live in 4hr blocks of pain control. The list is endless.

    Workplace deaths are tragic for all concerned there is no escaping that bleak fact.
    Injuries that destroy quality of life fade from the public view once the evening news ends (assuming the incident even made it to the evening news).

    There is always much to be done in raising the awareness of workplace safety. There is even more to be done in ensuring that workplace safety is maintained.

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