OHS statistics sound good but do not reflect reality

SafetyAtWorkBlog has questioned the veracity of occupational health and safety statements by Victoria’s Assistant Treasurer, Gordon Rich-Phillips, previously.  Early in January 2013, Minister Rich-Phillips stated that:

“Victoria’s workplaces had the safest year on record in 2012…”

Victorian businesses, workers and policy-makers would benefit enormously if the government were to focus on achieving independent accurate data of workplace injury, illness and business costs instead of cherry picking statistics for political gain.

In 2012, WorkSafe Victoria chose to include working hours as the basis for calculations where previous it had used per number of workers.  Certainly this brings it in line with the commonly used safety performance measure but as the statistics transition from old to new, there can be inaccuracies in interpretation.

Rich-Phillips states:

“Last year 18 people died in Victorian workplaces – seven fewer than the 25 fatalities which occurred in 2011 and equal to the previous record low of 18 workplace deaths set in 2005.”

If fatalities is the measure of overall safety,the Minister cannot substantiate his media statement’s title, however he employs WorkSafe’s revised measure of safety:

“The number of Victorians injured at work also fell to a new low. Last year, 7.77 people were injured for every million hours worked, compared to 7.9 people per million hours worked in 2011.”

WorkSafe fatality data 2001-12Only two year’s data seems to have been used to justify the Minister’s claim which seems a little thin although WorkSafe Victoria has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that previous years’ injury data has been recalculated to the new criteria so the Minister’s claim may be possible to justify.  Executives of WorkSafe Victoria will be addressing a breakfast seminar in early February at which questions on statistical measures will be put.

The Minister goes on, in the media release, to repeat his October 2012 claims:

“In 2012 national data confirmed Victoria’s position as having the safest workplaces of any state or territory in Australia…”

In one media release, the Minister collates three measurements in his safety claim – fatalities, injuries per million hours worked and workers’ compensation claims data.  Each have their limitations.  Data on work-related fatalities may not consider traffic incidents involving work vehicles and public roads. Claims data only includes incidents for which claims are made.  There are sectors and circumstances where the work-related nature of the injury is not recorded, for various reasons. Across all three measurements, the incidence of occupational illness is not measured or cannot be measured.

The reality of workplace safety and health statistics is likely to always be below the official data and certainly below the political hyperbole.

Regardless of the statistics, one must look at what the Minister proposes to do about the existing workplace illness and injury rate.  Minister Rich-Phillips suggests these hazard control measures:

“Employers can improve safety and reduce injuries by making sure people are trained and supervised, that they have the right equipment to safely carry out a job and that machines are properly guarded…

“Workers can also improve safety in the workplace by taking responsibility for their actions.  A shortcut might seem like a good idea but it’s often a shortcut to a serious injury.”

The Victorian Liberal Government has severely cut the funding available to the Technical and Further Education sector – a major source of apprentice training, training that incorporates mandatory safety training.

The Minister’s comment on worker responsibility and short cuts shows a misunderstanding of production by ignoring the organisational and production pressures that generate the environment, or system of work, in which short cuts are taken.  Poor production and supply planning may lead to a “rush job”.  Inadequate resourcing and inadequate training may also lead to short cuts.

Occupational health and safety has always provided attractive political opportunities for how can one argue against the importance of preventing harm to workers and minimising unnecessary business costs.  What has frequently weakened the workplace safety arguments is the lack of definitive independent data that provides a clear picture of the reality of injury, illness and business costs.  Politicians, like Gordon Rich-Phillips, should make it a task to achieve this level of accuracy in workplace data.  They may be surprised at the size of that reality but it could also provide a strong base from which policy can be developed to reduce personal, social and economic harm.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

10 thoughts on “OHS statistics sound good but do not reflect reality”

  1. Rich-Phillips late last year claimed that a national report that showed Victoria had a lower injury rate than other jurisdictions was \”compelling evidence\” that a model WHS Act would take Victoria backwards on health and safety.

    One of the cynical things about that claim was that the report analysed figures from 2010/11, before any jurisdiction had adopted the new laws.

  2. Congratulations on having one of the safest years on record. It is good to see that as the years increase, the number of safety related incidents decrease. We all need to work to reduce the number of workplace incidents so that we can eventually get as close to zero as possible.

  3. Congratulations on having one of the safest years on record. It is good to see that as the years increase, the number of safety related incidents decrease. We all need to work to reduce the number of workplace incidents so that we can eventually get as close to zero as possible.

  4. Congratulations on having one of the safest years on record. It is good to see that as the years increase, the number of safety related incidents decrease. We all need to work to reduce the number of workplace incidents so that we can eventually get as close to zero as possible.

  5. Kevin, I think your just having a general dumb on the Victorian Government, it\’s a gosmer thin link between the statistics and Tafe funding, but you managed to fit it in. As for the other comments what would they propose? We all know stats and lag indicators are a compromise, however the non safety professional can understand them, what\’s the alternative.
    It would seem a genuine attempt to rationalise the statistics is happening you suggest that yourself.
    Apprenticeship nos have been falling for years, not just in the current term.

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