Health and safety laws need to be strengthened, not watered down, due to the sharp rise in work-related fatalities, say the unions.
Workplace fatalities have increased by 14 per cent this year, a report released today by Safe Work Australia has found. In 2008-2009 there were 177 notified work-related fatalities – an increase from 158 for the previous 12 months.
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the increase in fatalities was disturbing at a time when proposed changes to Australian workplace safety laws would result in a weakening of protections and rights.
“A double-digit increase in workplace fatalities in one year is shocking,” said Lawrence. “Each of these victims is someone’s partner, parent, son, daughter or friend. If any evidence was needed that requirements for employers to provide a safe workplace need to be toughened, this is it.”
Laurence urged the federal and state governments to make workers’ safety their highest priority.
“This increase in fatalities demonstrates the need for all Australians to focus on safety in the workplace and undertake measures to improve safety standards,” said Safe Work Australia Chair Tom Phillips. “In a country such as Australia fatalities should be decreasing. These figures reinforce the message that safety should be everybody’s number – one priority.”
Mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing were the industries with the highest increase of fatalities, and had the highest level of workplace deaths since records commenced in 2003.
The report, Notified Fatalities Statistical Report 2008-09, also revealed that just in excess of half of all work-related injury fatalities resulted from vehicle incidents.
A total of 453 work-related traumatic injury fatalities occurred in Australia during 2006–07 and, of these, 295 died of injuries sustained while working; 93 workers were identified as having died while commuting to or from work and 65 bystanders were identified as having died as a result of someone else’s work activity.
“By publishing data from a range of data sources, Safe Work Australia demonstrates a commitment to providing the best possible information to improve workplace safety,” said Phillips.