Work injuries increase
By James Vassilopoulos
Work injury rates are beginning to rise, according to a recently released publication by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission.
The federal government last year cut the budget of Worksafe, the public occupational health and safety body, by 50%. According to Peggy Trompf, coordinator of the Workers Health Centre in Granville, vital components were stripped away.
The Compendium of Workers' Compensation Statistics, Australia 1994-95 uses compensation claims to indicate the level of workplace injuries and diseases.
The number of new compensation claims reported in Australia (excluding Victoria and the ACT) was 148,563 in the year 1994-95. This was a 3% increase on 1993-94 and an 18% jump on the number for 1992-93. There was a 5% increase in cases for women during 1994-95, compared to a 2% rise for men.
These statistics may present a partial picture of the real situation because they count only claims for injuries and diseases resulting in an absence from work of five or more days.
The number of work-related fatalities was approximately 2900. Approximately 400 deaths occurred on the job and 2500 from diseases like lung cancer.
The occupations with the highest deaths were plant and machine operators, which made up 28% of all fatalities, followed by tradespeople, with 24.8%, and labourers and related workers, 21.6% of fatalities.
The mining industry had the highest incidence rate (number of deaths for each 1000 workers) and the highest frequency rate (number of deaths per 1 million hours worked) of new compensation cases, about 230% and 80%, respectively, higher than the national all-industries rate.
Trompf is concerned about the impact of labour market deregulation and the destruction of conditions on occupational health and safety.
"Even under award conditions, Australia's performance is far from good. We see the results of very poor work practices, due to some employers not fulfilling the duty of care under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Groups like women workers, migrants and disabled workers are especially susceptible", Trompf told Green Left Weekly.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce has a case before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to strip many clauses from a number of current awards, including occupational health and safety clauses.
According to Trompf, "That awards are being rolled back is appalling. Anything which is going to lessen conditions surrounding health and safety is an extremely retrograde step. We need an increase not a reduction."