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.