Christmas season at work: The jolliest, and the deadliest

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The final two months of the year are considered the deadliest by workplace health authorities, and despite the annual warnings from advocacy groups, each year a spike in accidents and fatalities occurs during the festive period.

According to Victorian workplace safety watchdog WorkSafe, in Victoria alone over the past five years, 26 workers have died during the Christmas period. WorkSafe executive director of health and safety, Ian Forsyth, said that while Victoria was on track for a new record low rate of workplace injuries and fatalities, this remains the most dangerous time of year. “We’re concerned there may be a repeat of last year’s catastrophic end to the year where workplace fatalities occurred on an almost daily or weekly basis,” he said.

One reason behind the spike in safety incidents is that organisations are rushing to finish jobs before the summer break and peak periods for the farming and manufacturing sectors can mean that corners are cut and safety becomes less of a priority.

Forsyth also highlighted that, contrary to what one may assume, the majority of fatalities involve experienced workers carrying out routine tasks, and no worker was immune to the risk of a serious or fatal workplace incident.

The WorkSafe warning coincides with the launch of a new website offering up-to-date training and advice on workplace safety. The new Safety First website, launched by the Group Training Association of Victoria today, will help businesses to know their legal obligations and create safe workplaces. GTAV executive director Gary Workman said many Australian businesses are still unaware of their new obligations that the new Work Health and Safety (WHS) harmonisation laws are being brought into play. “The Safety First site allows employers to access information and training on safety that suits the needs of employers and workers and will make practical improvements to safety in their workplace,” Workman said.

He cited the statistic that workplace injuries and illnesses cost Australia over $60bn every year and cause damage and heartache to countless lives. “Sadly, once an accident has occurred the money and time are always found to pay for safety improvements, so why not do this before the accident happens?” Workman commented.  

The Safety First website uses a modern range of learning techniques including audio, video, quizzes, interactive activities and real life scenarios, to get employers up to speed on WHS laws, which became law as of 1 January 2012. The new WHS laws broaden the duty of care owed to workers to include people conducting a business of undertaking, rather than just the direct employer of a worker.

“Many businesses still have the mentality of ‘it will never happen to me’, and do not appreciate the consequences if they neglect safety,” Workman said. Employers now have a positive duty to ensure that they provide a safe work environment, with the threat of fines of up to $600,000 and/or five years imprisonment.

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