SafeWork Australia – 2023 work health and safety

Source: SafeWork Australia

Each year, Safe Work Australia produces national work health and safety statistics, providing important evidence on the state of work health and safety in Australia.

There are still too many serious injuries, fatalities and illnesses arising from work. The findings from the latest Key Work Health and Safety Statistics 2023 show that:

  • Body stressing, Falls, slips and trips, and Being hit by moving objects are the cause of most work related injuries in Australia,
  • Vehicle incidents and Being hit by moving objects continue to account for most fatalities, and
  • Work related mental health conditions are rising, with time off work in these cases more than four times longer than for other injuries. 

Falls from height continue to be a major cause of serious accidents in the workplace. Notwithstanding the overall improvement of health and safety at work over recent years, falls from height still occur. Indeed, falls from height were one of the principal cause of fatalities in the 2022 period, comprising 9% of all fatalities according to Safe Work Australia figures. Where such incidents happen, employers and controllers of the premises are likely to face investigations by the state and territory regulatory bodies. The outcome can be prosecutions with resultant significant fines and/or prison sentences. Incidents are also more likely than not to lead to personal injury claims which in view of the circumstances and nature of the injuries sustained can often be substantial in value. 

The 2023 Work-Related injury fatalities / Key Work Health and Safety Statistics publication shows that risks rising from work at height remains a major source of incidents and that those involved in such works still need to do more to minimise the dangers. 

Falls, trips and slips of a person make up 22% of all serious compensation claims throughout 2022. 

SafeWork Australia Key Work Health and Safety Statistics 2023

The Construction Sector remains one of the leading industries work workplace fatalities and incidents / workers’ compensation claims. The outcomes of falls in the workplace are more likely to be life-threatening when compared to many other incident types. 

Other common mechanisms of injury, such as manual handling, overexertion, and vehicle or machine accidents are more likely to cause injury to a particular body part. The injuries sustained from a fall from height can easily have wider spread complications which can affect the whole body, cause significant damage to vital organs, and if not directly resulting in death, have life-altering long term consequences.

Another cause of injury and illness that is becoming a serious concern, is those relating to Mental Health. Mental health conditions accounted for 9.2% or 11,700 serious claims in 2021-22p. While this was a slight decline on 2020-21, it remains substantially higher than 10 years ago. How does it relate to us in the working at heights sector? Well, in the Construction sector alone, workers are 8x more likely to die by suicide than from an accident at work. The following unique stressors were identified in the “Mates in Construction” Blueprint Roundtable: competitive and male- dominated workplace culture; stigma and fear around the subjects of mental health and suicide; ignorance of the increased risk of suicide and mental health issues for workers; failure by management to accept or apportion responsibility; higher levels of substance and alcohol misuse; disparate workplaces, FIFO (Fly in, Fly out) and DIDO (Drive in, Drive out) work; working while exposed to the elements; and, inconsistent/intermittent work.

Over the 10 years to 2021-22p:

The proportion of claims for Mental health conditions has increased from 6.5% in 2011-12 to 9.2% in 2021-22p. This has been driven by growth in the number of serious claims each year for Mental health conditions of 3,500 claims, or a 43.3%, increase over the period.

This represents the largest growth in the number of claims each year for a Nature of injury/illness Major group observed over the period.

Workplace mental health conditions are one of the costliest forms of workplace injury. They lead to significantly more time off work and higher compensation paid when compared to physical injuries and diseases.

The median time lost from Mental health condition claims in 2020-21 (34.2 working weeks) was more than four times the median time lost across all claims (8.0).

The median compensation paid for Mental health condition claims in 2020-21 ($58,615) was close to four times the median compensation paid across all claims ($15,743).

Solar installer charged for ignoring fall from height risk

Source: SafetySolutions

A Darwin business and its manager have been charged for failing to ensure that its workers used fall protection while working on the roof of a commercial building. NT WorkSafe alleges that over a four-day period in August 2023, which coincided with two visits from WorkSafe Inspectors responding to safety concerns from members of the public, not all the workers installing solar panels on the roof of a commercial building had tethered the harness they wore to manage the risks of a fall. Amongst the workers not using fall protection was the manager supervising the work and a first-year apprentice.

Mpriza Group Pty Ltd, which provides solar, electrical and air-conditioning services, has been charged with three breaches of the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (the Act), including two reckless conduct charges under Section 31 of the Act for failing their primary duty of care under Section 19(a) and one charge under Section 33 of the Act for failing to comply with their health and safety duty, also under Section 19(a).

The manager supervising the works, Nicholas Zikos, has been charged with three breaches of the Act, including two reckless conduct charges under Section 31 for failing his primary duty of care under Section 19(a) and one charge under Section 33 of the Act for failing to comply with his health and safety duty, also under Section 19(a). If found guilty of all charges, the business faces a combined maximum penalty of $6.05 million while Zikos faces a combined maximum penalty of $1.25 million or five years’ prison, or both.

Charges under Section 32 of the Act for failing to comply with health and safety duty have also been laid against both defendants as alternatives to the reckless conduct charges. The matter will be addressed at the Darwin Local Court on Monday, 29 January 2024.

Learning from Failure

It is a rare thing to meet someone in the working at heights sector, who doesn’t have a story around a near miss, human error, or of a failure of a system. What is important to acknowledge from such stories is that human error is as important as mechanical or rigging failure. There are numerous causes of human error has led to a fall or an incident at height, including complacency, poor communication, lack of knowledge and over confidence. 

Whilst we can readily admit that within the heights industry many have had ‘moments of stupidity’; it is when these moments occur without a witness, ‘a near miss’, incidents that may have resulted in a consequence greater than an increased heart rate and a sudden realisation of your own mortality. 

Learning from failure is a vital part of the safety system; and human error is one that is neglected. Whether it’s forgetting part of the safety system, threading devices incorrectly, having more that the prescribed number of persons attached to a system, a karabiner misconnection, dropping tools or equipment, not connecting to safety systems. All of these occurrences are considered to be a near miss. 

We use the term neglected, because it is rare that workers ‘own up to small mistakes’, or that there is a workplace culture that mocks such occurrences instead of supporting the worker, and seeking action(s) to prevent them from happening again. It is vital that such incidents are reported. Without such reporting, these occurrences don’t become a learning experience for others.

Ultimately, unreported near misses may at some point result in an injury or fatality. For example, a small fall from height where no injury occurred may result in the same situation recurring where injury or fatality may occur. 

One theory1 tells us that for a large number of ‘No damage, Near miss’ events there will be a smaller number of ‘damage accidents’ and – ultimately – a ‘serious or disabling’ event, e.g. a fatality.

Accordingly, one way to help prevent the more serious incidents is to report the near misses. By reporting all the smaller, seemingly ‘insignificant’ incidents, it may be possible to identify a pattern in the types of incidences, which could lead to a way to prevent them.­­

Even though it may seem like nobody wants to own up to, or report a foolish mistake, it is important to recognise that near miss information can be used to make changes, prevent accidents and save lives. 

There is a multitude of reasons why things can go wrong:

  • There may be a ‘blame culture’.
  • A technician may lack experience or knowledge.
  • There may be poor supervision.
  • There may be a lapse of judgment.
  • Someone may decide to cut a corner.
  • There may be a false sense of safety.
  • A near miss may not be reported.
  • Procedures may be ineffective or inefficient.
  • Someone may be overconfident.
  • Communication may be poor.

You and those you work with can take steps to ensure near misses do not occur, and if they do, have the workplace culture in place to support the reporting process. 

You can take time to assess what is going on. You’re less likely to have a lapse in judgement when tasks are though through properly. 

Allow adequate time to complete tasks. Don’t encourage rushing. 

Encourage near miss reporting (if necessary, reporting can be anonymous). You can ‘learn from failure’.

Ensure good standards of supervision. There should be enough manager(s) and/or supervisor(s).

Use the correct people for the task. Protect and teach those who are inexperienced.

Make sure that technicians are aware of the risks and the potential severity of an incident. Training and information is vital.

Ensure that communication is suitable and sufficient. Assess each task separately and ask yourself, “What’s different today?”

Ensure that procedures are kept under review. Work methods evolve and improve; make use of the most efficient and effective methods available.

Encourage a “no blame culture”. Where possible, ensure that technicians learn from their mistakes (rather than being punished for them). 

It is also important to consider how you can encourage or incentivise workers to report and discuss near misses and experiences that they have encountered or heard about. 

You can utilise toolbox talks or task assessment briefings; have a variety of topics around near misses, and encourage participation – it’s quite amazing to see the knock on effect once one person shares a near miss they experienced or heard about. These completed documents can also aid a business in demonstrating a commitment to safety. 

It is also possible for businesses to review the management system’s procedures around ‘near misses’ and incident reporting to ensure that all workers can feel comfortable about reporting without fear of reprisal, or detriment to their position at work. 

Further reading:

Human factors: Behavioural safety approaches – an introduction (also known as behaviour modification)

SafeWork Australia – Incident Reportin

IRATA International Topic Sheet No. 2: Near Misses: Learning from Failure

1 Frank E. Bird, Jr (1921 – 2007)