Continuing grim reality of work-related fatalities

14th Jan 2021

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 NSW.

Work-related fatalities and non-fatal injuries 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 their families.

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

Companies rarely receive maximum penalty

Companies that 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 2011, but all too often the penalty falls far short of this.

In July 2019, Truslan Constructions was fined only $450,000 in the NSW District Court following the death of a worker who fell three metres from scaffolding which had no handrails.

Truslan Constructions had been alerted to the safety risk 11 days before the incident by a visiting union official, but took no action.

The Judge said that the risk was foreseeable and Truslan Constructions ignored warnings, but the fine was reduced by 25% (from $600,000) 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 that work-related fatalities are avoided.

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 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.

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

An edited version of this article was first published on Stacks Law.

Justin Stack is a personal injury lawyer at Stacks Law Firm, practising in Taree. Justin specialises in compensation law for individuals, conducting matters for clients in NSW and interstate. His expertise lies in handling major catastrophic claims arising from motor vehicle accidents and work accidents, and in conducting public liability and occupiers’ liability cases. He also deals with total and permanent disability claims on superannuation policies. Justin has often conducted matters for non-English speaking clients, sometimes with the aid of an interpreter. He often travels to clients who have difficulty travelling to his office in Taree.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: Workers' rights Workers compensation Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) Employment workplace injury