It’s October, which means it’s also National Safe Work Month, and the message Safe Work Australia is hoping to spread is a simple one. The theme in 2018 is ‘A moment is all it takes’ and it aims to encourage workers to take time to think about safety every day, and share stories and issues.
It’s all about taking that moment to start the day off in the right way.
Safe Work Australia chair Diane Smith-Gander says thinking about a “safety moment” at the start of a meeting, or at the beginning of the day, on each job is a way to get the focus right from the outset.
Smith-Gander, who is also a non executive director of AGL Energy and Wesfarmers, which owns retailers such as Kmart, Bunnings and Coles, says she uses storytelling to help people connect with strategies around how to be safer at work.
“It could be a personal story, a workplace story, or an observation about safety that enables people to think about how they’re going to be safer in their work.”
Smith-Gander says storytelling enables everyone to make a contribution, whether that is through safety moments, or other paths such as company newsletters and networks such as Yammer or LinkedIn. “Part of Safe Work Month is for people to recognise different roles they can play,” she says.
The overall picture of safety in the workplace is an encouraging one, but the statistics are still tragic. In 2018, statistics up to September 20 showed that 95 workers had been killed. In 2017, that number was 191 people, but represents a decline of 49 per cent in the rate of fatalities per 100,000 workers since a peak in 2007 when 310 fatalities occurred.
Safe Work Australia said the decline can be attributed to advances in technology and changes in work practices, but also new Workplace Health and Safety laws that that help to reduce risk.
Breaking down the SWA statistics reveals the areas most at risk. The biggest age group affected by fatalities is 55-64 year olds. As a gender comparison, in 2016, 168 deaths were male, while 14 were female. The biggest killer is vehicle collisions (42 per cent in 2016), followed by falls from a height (14 per cent), being hit by moving objects (9 per cent) and being hit by falling objects (9 per cent). The biggest industry sector affected is transport, postal and warehousing, then agriculture, forestry and fishing, then construction, and manufacturing.
SWA says vehicle collisions have accounted for the highest proportion of fatalities since its records began in 2003, accounting for between 30-45 per cent of incidents, which it says, is a reflection of the higher risks and hazards associated with driving for work.
For injuries and disease, the most affected industry is agriculture, forestry and fishing, then construction and manufacturing. The occupation recording the highest rate of serious claims is labourers. The top cause is body stressing (38 per cent), followed by falls, trips and slips (24 per cent) and being hit by moving objects (16 per cent). Compensation claims have dropped by more than a quarter between 2006 and 2016 but the last official annual total over 2012-2013 saw the cost of work-related industry and disease cost $61.8 billion.
Smith-Gander says Safe Work Australia is working with CSIRO’s data research network, Data61, to keep across the changing work landscape and adapt guidance materials and policies where needed.
Another focus is on mental-health and the duty of care for organisations in creating workplaces that are psychologically safe.
“The month is really about saying, here’s a time when we put a lot of focus on ensuring people understand the issues around safety but also the resources that are available to them,” Smith-Gander says.
“A month is long enough for habits to start to build, so that we can break some of the old bad habits and build some of the new good habits.”
For more information, see www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/news-and-events/national-safe-work-month.
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