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                        4 min read

                        Why Australia's insurance & regulation slows safety improvement

                        Why Australia's insurance & regulation slows safety improvement

                        Safe Work Australia has released its latest statistics on workplace fatalities and injuries, and as always, it's a saddening read.

                        Here are some of the key findings:

                        • There were 169 work-related fatalities in 2021, which equates to 1.3 deaths per 100,000 people. 

                        • The majority of workplace fatalities involved males, with 163 men and 6 women killed in 2021.

                        • The age group that experienced the greatest number of work-related fatalities is 55 to 64 years old with 43 deaths in that age bracket in 2021.

                        • The majority of deaths occurred in NSW, which recorded 46 fatalities.

                        • Most of the deaths involved machinery operators and drivers with 68 (8.2 per 100,000), while the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry had the greatest fatalities per 100,000 with 10.4. 

                        • Workplace fatalities are trending down since the peak in 2007, decreasing 57% in that time.

                        • Preliminary data shows there were 130,195 claims for serious injury with a median compensation claim of $15,072.

                        • Machinery operators accounted for 13% of serious claims in 2021.

                         

                        Our thoughts

                        Here at Plant Assessor, we are always deeply disheartened to read about any workplace fatality, particularly those involving machinery, and those that were completely avoidable. Machinery operators represent a substantial portion of serious injury claims and fatalities, while the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry is still well over represented in injury numbers. This is simply not good enough.

                         

                        How do we compare?

                        While Australia is improving when it comes to reducing the number of workplace fatalities occurring in this country, there is still plenty to be done to bring that number down. 

                        Let’s compare Australia to some other countries. Our performance compares favourably to the United States. Workplace fatalities are nearly 3 times as likely in the USA; 3.4 people per 100,000 were killed on the job in the US in 2020 compared to Australia’s 1.3 in 2021. 

                        However, we are a long way behind the UK, which has less than a third of our fatality rate. So whilst we are heading in the right direction, there is still a long way to go.

                         

                        What needs to change?

                        Looking at these statistics, it’s easy to see that changes need to be made to continue the decline in workplace fatalities. The importance of managing machinery safety is increasing, however this is not being supported by strong and consistent messaging from regulators. Some state regulators have invested in proactive campaigns and consistent promotion and messaging regarding machinery safety and incidents, but others don’t seem to have the focus or resources to act. While the inconsistency in messaging continues, our improvement will be slower than it should be.

                        We also know the regulation of machinery safety needs to change in order to reduce the amount of lives lost on the job. Currently, machinery safety regulation is inconsistent. Take the Federal Safety Accreditation Scheme for example. Those who are self insured or are accredited under the Federal Safety Accreditation Scheme are considerably more proactive in the area of machinery safety.

                        This is unlike the prevailing state workers compensation schemes, which in my opinion, hopelessly fail to promote proactive risk reduction activity.  Where regulatory activity is weak or non-existent, risk reduction and safety improvement rely almost solely on the motivation and proactivity of business owners and management teams.

                        What I have seen over the past 20 years is a genuine increase in the safety conscience of leadership teams in higher risk industries such as those that we service. This is really pleasing and is resulting in fundamentally safer and better workplaces. However we still have the same problem - the lowest common denominator will drag us down. This is where incentivising risk reduction and enforcing safety obligations strongly and consistently is so critical in improving safety and reducing fatalities.

                        Take the agriculture industry for example. An industry I grew up in, and which is very close to my heart. It is an industry still dominated by family owned businesses, often sole traders.  Regulation of this industry is difficult due to the large number of owner operators who are geographically dispersed, and difficult to engage with for a range of reasons.  

                        To be fair to our regulators, they have taken some excellent initiatives to seek to engage and educate the agricultural sector, most notably partnering with farming organisations including the National Farmers Federation, NSW Farmers, the Victorian Farmers Federation, Agforce and others to provide free assistance and tools to agricultural organisations to help improve safety.

                        I attended the Farmsafe conference in Canberra late last year and was very impressed with what that organisation has achieved both by way of education, lobbying and advisory work. Farmsafe and its state based counterparts are doing vital work in the bid to reduce the number of work-related and machinery-related fatalities in the agricultural sector. We applaud this, and strongly support their message and initiatives.

                        The agriculture sector is almost the perfect example why our insurance and regulatory approach impedes safety improvement. It is not that the initiatives being undertaken are failing, however in the absence of broad incentives to reduce risk, and a strong regulatory enforcement approach, it is almost certain that the lowest common denominator will prevail in holding the industry back, and safety standards will continue to lag.

                        More duty holders are understanding they need to do more when it comes to workplace safety, particularly relating to machinery. Equally though, we are still surprised by the number of duty holders that are unaware of their obligations or how to meet them. This highlights a major problem. 

                        In the meantime, we will continue to provide innovative ways for duty holders to reduce and manage the risks associated with the use of machinery. Keeping people safe is our primary goal; we care about people getting home to their loved ones safely. We have built this machinery safety management software in the hope more users will identify serious machinery hazards, implement control measures to effectively reduce risk and keep people who work in and around machinery safe.

                        If you would like assistance in ensuring your machinery, and your workers as a result, are as safe as possible, please contact Plant Assessor’s machinery compliance experts on 1300 728 852 or email info@assessor.com.au.

                         

                        Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide general information on the subject matter. This is not intended as legal or expert advice for your specific situation. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the content of this information.

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