Welding explosion burn survivor talks about the experience

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The 19 May 2009 edition of The 7.30 Report included a fresh perspective on rehabilitation from workplace injuries.  According to the website

“Sydney man Frank Spiteri was not expected to live after suffering third-degree burns to 70 per cent of his body in a major workplace explosion in 2007.

Not only did Mr Spiteri survive, but he has transformed from an overweight businessman into a fitness fanatic who is determined to help other burns victims.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has provided an extended interview with Frank online. It is a story of extraordinary personal will, a story rarely seen on national television.

Kevin Jones

Cost of occupational injuries and illnesses rise

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According to a report in the Australian Financial Review (page 5, not available online) on 14 April 2009, the costs of work-related injury and disease has increased to $A57.5 billion.  This represents 5.9% of the country’s gross domestic product, up from 5% in 2000-01.

Of perhaps more concern is the sectors of society which are estiimated to bear these increasing costs.  49% of costs are borne by workers, 47% by the community and 3% by the employers.  Even if the insurance costs were allocated to employers, this would only amount to 18% of the injury and diseases costs.

The figures from the report conducted by the Australian Safety & Compensation Council could justify the push by some in the OHS profession to move workplace safety into the area of public health.  Regardless, the spread of the cost should be borne in mind when OHS organisations lobby government for more support and attention.

Kevin Jones

Financial dive for WorkCover NSW

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SafetyAtWorkBlog recently reported on the financial results of the workers’ compensations schemes in South Australia and Victoria.  WorkCover New South Wales results were released on 7 April 2009.

According to an article in the Australian Financial Review (page 4, not available on line) the WorkCover NSW fund fell by $2.3 billion – the $625 million surplus in 2007-08 has plunged to a $1.77 billion deficit.  

WorkCover NSW has talked in the past about its positive achievements, and historically, they are right.  In their Annual Report 2007-08, they say (page 8 )

“The WorkCover Scheme’s financial position has improved from a deficit of $3.2 billion in 2002 to a surplus of $625 million in June 2008.”

“Accentuate the positives” is the government mantra across all departments but how do you continue to do this when your funding model has collapsed.  The AFR report says that Standard & Poor has estimated that this deficit represents 3% of the government’s consolidated revenue.  WorkCover is just one authority that relies on stockmarket returns

The Minister, Joe Tripodi is quoted in media reports as saying that the deficit was expected and is understandable and that the workers compensation scheme is “sound”.

Richard Gilley, a risk management consultant, said that economic downturns often coincide with an increase in the “frequency and severity of claims”.  

Tripodi has pledged not to increase premiums as that is the insurance cost to business, but one has to ask why not?  Premiums have been reduced throughout Australia during the “good” economic times with the understanding that this would increase the profitability of business and, maybe, just maybe, provide additional funds for business to reinvest in the safety levels of the business.

Perhaps this is the wrong time to increase premiums but the question should be asked nevertheless.

It is recommended that those government authorities who accept their excessive high premiums as the cost of operating in their sector be audited and the results presented to the board and the governing authority.  There are government authorities who do not recognize that the millions they pay in premiums originate from taxpayers and that, in 2008, maybe the community deserves the money that is being wasted in poorly-managed OHS and Return-To-Work systems in the public sector.

Kevin Jones

Politician who attempted suicide is “sacked”

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In early August 2008, Paula Wriedt, Tasmanian MP, tried to commit suicide.  Six weeks later the Tasmanian Premier has sacked her from Cabinet, according to an ABC report.

Premier David Bartlett denies this is a sacking, more a “withdrawal of commission”.  He says it is for the good of the government and for the good of Ms Wriedt.

Ms Wriedt was asked to resign her Cabinet position but the Premier says she was “not in a position to make such a decision”.

An audio interview with the Premier put to him that his decision was “despicable” and “reflects the way the state deals with people with mental health problems”.

Ms Wriedt’s suicide attempt had already raised discussion on the workplace issues of stress, compensation, workloads and mental health.  The listener’s question in the audio interview will reflect the majority of the community’s response to the Premier’s decision and Premier Bartlett will have a difficult time explaining how his decision was for Ms Wriedt’s benefit.

Ms Wriedt’s current situation and future career decisions will provide an interesting illustration on how the public service and Tasmanian politics manages an employee with mental health issues, particularly when, on OHS matters, the public service should be exemplars.

Return to work stories

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Workcover South Australia has released some online videos that include stories of people who have been injured at work and how important it has been to regain a quality of life.

The stories illustrate the importance of a supportive workplace and encouraging relatives.  These videos are part of a broader package of information but some may find the stories useful to show others as a motivator for safety improvements

The stories are available for viewing HERE