Managing risk

Staggering costs of work injuries for WA employers – report

A new report counting the cost of work-related traumatic injuries and fatalities in Western Australia over the last decade has revealed the 20 biggest WHS-related drains on profits and productivity. But things are getting better.  

21 May 2024

The report – Worst hazards in Western Australian workplaces 2012–13 to 2021–22, published by WorkSafe WA – explores the data in terms of total time lost and total cost of workers comp claims over the period. For example, ‘Trips on clear ground’ resulted in 17,800 claims, which added up to a massive cost of $700 million in claims and 4,300 years of time lost from work.

‘Trips on cluttered ground’ and ‘Trips on slick ground’ also featured on the list, bringing the total costs of trips to $1.2 billion in claims and 7,900 years of work time lost to business.

Falls from ladders, trucks and stairs were also listed, combining to add up to 2,510 years of work time lost and $400 million in claims.

Analysing the data in this way and considering the cumulative costs over a 10-year period highlights the eye-watering dimensions of the burden to business in the long term.

The data is also sliced to show the worst hazards by industry, by gender, by workers’ age and by mechanism of injury or fatality.

In terms of lost time, the worst outcomes overall were due to psychosocial hazards and falls.

By mechanism of injury, the worst hazard group was manual handling, which accounted for 40 per cent of all lost time (24,776 years’ worth of lost shifts and working days).

Gender differences showed that men had more falls and vehicle crashes, while women were more likely to be harmed by psychosocial hazards and handling other people. Workplace assault also caused twice as much lost time among female workers than among males. Trips and manual handling injuries were just as likely for men as for women.

By industry, in the agriculture, forestry and fishing support services industries, the hazards that caused the most harm included handling sheep, being hit by a cow or a moving tractor, crashes of light vehicles, quad bikes and motorcycles, as well as trips and falls.

The worst hazards for the road transport industry mostly involved trucks – in particular, crashes and falls.

In construction, trips, falls and handling materials or other muscular stresses accounted for the most harm.

The worst hazards in hospitals involved handling people, beds, trolleys and other equipment, though psychosocial hazards, assault and violence were also common.

In schools, the worst hazards include trips, handling people or equipment and psychosocial issues such as assault, work pressure, harassment, bullying and exposure to violence.

Apart from the six categories relating to trips and falls, the worst hazards were found to be:

  • muscular stress with no objects
  • handling other person
  • lifting box
  • assault
  • light vehicle crash
  • work pressure
  • truck crash
  • lifting metal
  • handling truck
  • exposure to a traumatic event
  • harassment or bullying
  • lifting bag
  • exposure to violence
  • handling equipment.

 

Why the figures underestimate the true costs

The data used to compile the report is gathered from WorkSafe WA’s Notified Fatalities Database of work-related traumatic injury fatalities and the WorkCover WA workers’ compensation claims database.

These data sources do not cover all injuries sustained by people working in WA – the figures exclude self-employed people, Commonwealth Government workers (including defence personnel), workers covered by Comcare, police officers (except for work-related fatalities), unpaid volunteers and students on work experience. Also excluded are journey claims between home and work, asbestos-related diseases, and injuries and diseases treated under the health system, such as invalid pensions and sickness benefits.

The figures also don’t count the six out of 10 people who are injured at work but don’t claim compensation (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Work-related injuries survey 2021-22), either because their injuries were minor or for some other reason.

Nevertheless, the most common hazards identified in this report are likely to be present in most workplaces nationawide, and the figures provide clear indicators of the types of WHS issues that cause the biggest problems for employers, as well as for workers, their families and the wider community.

Difference between hazards resulting in injury and those causing fatalities

The hazards that result in fatalities are very different from the hazards that injure workers. Some hazards that have caused several fatalities have caused few injuries, such as electrocution by distribution line, or being bitten or stung by an insect. Other hazards that are very common causes of injuries, such as trips and manual handling, are extremely unlikely to cause fatalities.

Good news

Following the publication of the report, WorkSafe WA issued a media release saying that new statistics have shown WA workers have a much lower chance of being fatally injured at work in 2024 than they did 34 years ago, with 49.5 fatalities per million workers in WA in 1988/89, reduced to 8.5 fatalities per million workers by 2022/23 – a reduction of 83 per cent.

The acting WorkSafe Commissioner said that the improvements could be attributed to a steady increase in awareness of workplace health and safety over recent decades, among other factors, but there was still no room for employers to be complacent.

Read the report

Worst hazards in Western Australian workplaces 2012–13 to 2021–22

Gaby Grammeno

Contributor

Gaby has extensive experience as a researcher, writer, editor and project manager on a wide variety of information products, including books, guides, reports and submissions.

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