A shocking level of work-related fatalities is disclosed in the figures regularly released by Safe Work Australia.

A total of 3,751 workers have been killed in work-related incidents between 2003 and 2018. While Safe Work Australia has stated that the incidence of fatalities is declining, in 2019 there were still 183 worker fatalities, compared to 144 in 2018.

The largest number of fatalities is consistently reported in New South Wales. (See Safe Work Australia, Fatality Statistics.)

Work-related fatalities and non-fatal injuries both at frightening levels

Over half of the work-related fatalities in 2018 occurred in the transport, postal, warehousing, agriculture, forestry, fishing and construction industries. Vehicle accidents led the death toll, followed by being hit by moving objects and falls from a height.

However, these shocking death rates are just the tip of the iceberg. The number of non-fatal work-related injuries in Australia is also extreme. Such events have a tragic impact on the lives of workers and those of their families.

Unfortunately, changes in legislation have made it more difficult for injured workers to obtain adequate compensation to rebuild their lives.

Companies which fail to protect workers rarely receive maximum penalty

Companies which fail to provide proper protection for employees in the workplace face a maximum penalty of $1.5 million under the federal Work Health and Safety Act, but all too often the penalty falls far short of this.

In July 2019, Truslan Constructions was fined just $450,000 in the NSW District Court following the death of a worker who fell three metres from scaffolding which had no handrails, on a construction site in Ryde. (See R v Truslan Constructions Pty Ltd [2019] NSWDC 321.)

The company had been alerted to the safety risk just 11 days earlier by a visiting union official, but took no action.

The judge said the risk was foreseeable and the company ignored warnings, but reduced the fine from $600,000 by 25 per cent because the company pleaded guilty.

Employers cannot afford to put employee safety at risk

Employers must conduct workplace safety audits, identify risks and make safety improvements to ensure they avoid work-related fatalities.

Failure to do so can result in serious injuries that are costly both in court-imposed penalties and in compensation to the injured employee or the deceased worker's family.

Injured workers in NSW can access free legal advice

Through the NSW workers compensation system, injured workers in that state who wish to challenge an insurer's decision or dispute the amount of compensation they have been awarded may seek free legal assistance from approved lawyers, such as Stacks Law Firm.

The Workers Compensation Independent Review Office (WIRO) provides legal funding to workers for a legal dispute they have with an insurer, that has reasonable prospects of success. In these cases, WIRO will pay all of the worker's legal costs.

Justin Stack
Workers compensation
Stacks Law Firm

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.