SafeWork Australia highlights upward trend in T&L fatalities

Despite long-term decline, data shows uptick in deaths on past year

SafeWork Australia highlights upward trend in T&L fatalities
While vehicle crashes dominate the statistics, falling from height and falling objects also pose a huge risk


After the safety gains years of recent years, SafeWork Australia’s (SWA’s) latest Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report highlights a backwards step, particularly for transport and its related occupations.

Officially, 183 people were fatally injured at work in 2019, a fatality rate (deaths per 100,000) of about 1.5 per cent - well below 2007’s peak of about 300/3 per cent but back above 2018, when deaths were trending closer to 150/1 per cent.

Transport, postal & warehousing had a total of 58 deaths, the most dangerous sector by overall deaths, though its fatality rate was 8.7, slightly less than agriculture, forestry & fishing at 9.1 from 30 deaths.

Vehicle collisions also accounted for 43 per cent of worker fatalities in 2019.

The latter is point is explained as including "fatalities that occurred as a direct result of a vehicle crash. Vehicles include not only road vehicles such as cars and trucks, but also machines such as aircraft, boats, loaders, tractors and quad bikes".

However, vehicle deaths are still well above the next two categories, falls from height and being hit by falling objects, both on 11 per cent each.

The annual year-on-year jump in transport represents a concerning 52 per cent increase, from 38 in 2018.

NTARC also saw heavy vehicle losses down but driver error and fatalities up

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) continues to bang the drum on the demise of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) as contributing to the plateau.

"When this Federal Government dismantled the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal at the behest of big business it was warned its decision would cost lives," TWU national secretary Michael Kaine says.

"The government's own report found the RSRT would have cut truck crashes by 28 per cent by relieving some of the financial pressure on drivers to work beyond their physical limits.

"Now the RSRT is gone and the prediction of a rise in fatalities has proven sadly spot on.

"The government's decision to dismantle the RSRT has cost the lives of Australian transport workers."

It also warns of unregulated gig economy companies like Uber and Amazon Flex provide a further threat.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) points to the data showing the rate of claims through workers’ compensation for serious injuries increasing in agriculture, manufacturing, transport and logistics as well as health, community, and personal services.

"The Morrison Government is yet to act on the recommendations of a 2018 review of national WHS legislation which recommended industrial manslaughter provisions which would hold employers responsible where they cause the deaths of working people and regulations governing psychological injury and ill health which would mean factors contributing to mental illness in the workplace would be treated like physical hazards," it contends.

The SWA report draws from initial reporting of fatalities in the media or on relevant authority websites such as police, road authorities and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB); notifications to SWA from jurisdictional authorities; and the National Coronial Information System which provides confidential access to coroners’, police and other investigative reports. 

It comes as SafeWork NSW issues a new alert this week on the death of a truck driver crushed by excavator bucket in late September.

The 70-year-old was fatally crushed while unloading a 400-500kg excavator sieve bucket from a semi-trailer.

"The bucket was lashed to the semi-trailer. When the chains holding the bucket were released, the bucket slid and toppled off the truck, crushing the worker between the bucket and a bridge beam on the ground next to the truck," it reports.

SafeWork urges operators to check loads have not shifted during transportation before releasing the transportation restraints, establish exclusion zones to make sure people are not placed within potential fall zones, and, where necessary, sling the load to lifting equipment, such as a crane, prior to releasing the transportation restraints.

The full SWA Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities data set is available here.


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