October is National Safe Work Month, and with at least 116 Australians killed at work so far this year, authorities and business groups are urging everyone to be vigilant about health and safety issues in the workplace.
The figure of 116 workplace fatalities could, sadly, be even higher — this figure was, according to Safe Work Australia, accurate to 26 September, and was the most recent figure available at the time of publishing.
Concerningly, the figures to date have actually increased on the same time last year, when 106 people were killed at work.
Safe Work Australia’s figures suggest that the nation’s roads are the most dangerous place for employees, with 38 deaths so far this year in the transport, postal and warehousing industry. That is up on the 34 cumulative deaths recorded within the sector at the same time in 2018.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing is the next highest, with 28 deaths so far this year — up on 23 recorded by 26 September 2018.
The full year-to-date breakdown on fatalities looks like this:
- Transport, postal and warehousing: 38 deaths (up on 34 last year)
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing: 28 deaths (up on 23 last year)
- Construction: 16 deaths (down on 24 last year)
- Mining: 7 deaths (equal to last year)
- Electricity, gas, water and waste services: 6 deaths (up on 2 last year)
- Public administration and safety: 6 deaths (up on 2 last year)
- Manufacturing: 5 deaths (down on 8 last year)
- Wholesale trade: 2 deaths (equal to last year)
- Administrative and support services: 2 deaths (up on 1 last year)
- Arts and recreation services: 2 deaths (up on 1 last year)
- Other services: 2 deaths (up on a fatality-free year last year)
- Professional, scientific and technical services: 2 deaths (up on a fatality-free year last year)
- Healthcare and social assistance: fatality-free (down on 1 last year)
- Rental, hiring and real estate services: fatality-free (down on 1 last year)
- Accommodation and food services: fatality-free (equal to last year)
- Education and training: fatality-free (equal to last year)
- Financial and insurance services: fatality-free (equal to last year)
- Information media and telecommunications: fatality-free (equal to last year)
- Retail trade: fatality-free (equal to last year)
- Total worker deaths: 116 (up 10 on the 106 last year)
In February this year, Safe Work Australia unveiled the findings of its review into the nation’s health and safety laws, making 34 recommendations to strengthen the regulatory framework. That included a proposal to introduce tougher penalties.
‘Be a safety champion’
According to Safe Work Australia, the theme for this year’s National Safe Work Month is “Be a Safety Champion”, which is aimed at encouraging employees as well as their bosses to raise the bar on workplace safety, regardless of their industry or occupation.
“Everyone can support a safety culture at their workplace and promote best practice work health and safety initiatives,” it stated on its website.
The agency has developed a range of materials to help businesses engage with their team on the issue, both to develop discussions and advise actions that can lead to a safe work environment for everyone.
State and territory-based agencies are also hosting a range of events and initiatives aimed at raising awareness and encouraging initiatives that support the development of a safe and healthy workspace.
Safety easier as a collaborative effort
According to workplace specialist Employsure, the ongoing task of providing and maintaining a safe working environment for all inhabitants of a workplace is made easier when it is approached as a collaborative effort by teams.
“No one should go to work and never return home,” the agency’s senior health and safety manager, Larry Drewsen, said.
“From frontline workers and employees all the way to upper management, it’s essential that everybody works together to ensure every Australian worker arrives home safely and without injury after each and every shift.”
He also said that while the spotlight is firmly on the issue in October as National Safe Work Month, it is a commitment that should “be taken very seriously every single day, 365 days a year”.
“Whether your workplace is in the offices of the corporate headquarters city buildings, in a warehouse, in the field, on the road, or anywhere else, making sure your workplace ensures you and your team are safe when doing their job is the number one priority,” Mr Drewsen said.
“Lives change forever when there’s a serious injury or death in the workplace. The victims, their families, employers, co-workers, paramedics, and all those involved.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.