Workers Compensation

The real implications of OHS negligence: human lives, business contracts and hefty fines

Cost of OHS NegligenceToo many businesses are failing workers and their families by compromising lives, with 187 workplace deaths nationally in 2017, according to Safe Work Australia data analysed by the Australian Accident Helpline.

And 2018 is not looking better according to Safe Work Australia who said: “there has been no dramatic improvement in the last 10-years,”.

This is despite the rates of serious workers’ compensation claims decreasing by 30 per cent over the last decade, in line with the older demographic of the industry.

“Younger workers recorded the highest serious claim frequency rates,” according to a Safe Work Australia representative.

Australian Accident Helpline managing director, Liam Millner said the incidents highlighted often avoidable deaths and injuries resulting from OHS complacency by businesses whose reputations and business relationships were damaged as a result.

“Research has shown that companies tarnished with health and safety breaches that lead to death or serious injury of people within their area of responsibility suffer the consequence of failing to secure future contracts,” Mr Millner said.

Examples of the human and financial cost:

  • The biggest fine handed out in 2018 was $500,000 to a concrete pumping business for the tragic death of a worker struck by tubing weighing two tonnes.
  • In May 2018, a Shepparton fruit packaging company was fined $150,000 after a backpacker was scalped when her hair was caught in a conveyer belt drive shaft. The woman suffered “horrific injuries” and the court established that she had been expected to clean a conveyer belt while it was operating. “The time or cost saved by not powering down is never worth the horrific injuries that could occur,” SafeWork is quoted as saying.
  • A tragic accident happened in Queensland in early 2018 when a six-year-old suffered leg and skull fractures plus bleeding on the brain after being hit by a golf buggy. A Sydney-based building contractor pleaded guilty for failing to protect workers following an incident which cost the life of an unsupervised carpentry apprentice who fell while building a walkway platform. The building contractor was fined $405,000.
  • A Melbourne concreting contractor was fined $350,000 in March for safety oversights that led to the death of a client’s son. The 37-year-old man drove the skid steer to level a nature strip and was found dead in the operator’s seat with the safety bar not in position and the bucket raised.

Broadly, in construction, falls from heights continue to recur as a common cause of death or injury while in Victoria the number of farm-related fatalities in the year to August 2018 totalled seven out of 13 workplace deaths, an average of one per month.

The good news: action being taken to mitigate risks

State governments are taking action to raise awareness and educate business owners on OHS obligations, through initiatives such as the week-long forklift safety blitz, the announcement of a new plan to reduce deaths and accidents in the NSW construction industry, and July’s Farm Safety Week.

But the onus is on business owners to take responsibility for controlling risks and providing a safe working place for workers and visitors.

It’s now more important than ever to understand OHS legislation and implement better procedures, such as encouraging safety hazard reporting to prevent human harm and business impact.

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