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Home > News > 2019 > August > Making us sick: survey reveals extent of illness and injuries caused by work

Making us sick: survey reveals extent of illness and injuries caused by work

actu_shareable_work_safety.pngA recent Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) survey on the state of work health and safety in Australia has found that Australians are more than twice as likely to suffer an injury at work then to have a secure job. 

The survey titled Work Shouldn’t Hurt had over 26,000 respondents making it a representative sample of the Australian workforce and found 79% of people have suffered a mental or physical injury whilst at work.

The alarming results highlight the systemic physical and mental health issues a majority of Australian workers are suffering from as a condition of their employment. 

The survey findings state that “in most workplaces, workers are aware of serious threats to their physical and mental health which are being tolerated or ignored by their employers and a majority have experienced poor mental health as a result of hazards in their workplace which their employer failed to manage.”

The responses to the survey demonstrate a broad belief that employers are well aware of the risks their employees are facing in their workplace but are not willing to take these threats to their safety seriously.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien says working people are paying with their lives or are left seriously injured or ill as a result of unsafe work practices.

“Everybody should go to work free from the fear of being killed, injured or getting ill. Work shouldn’t hurt; all workers should come home from work mentally and physically safe,” said Mr O’Brien. 

“Unions are playing a crucial role in making sure that work is safe, but the Morrison Government’s laws are failing working people. We need an overhaul of model work health and safety laws.”

Current penalties not enough 

In most states, the current system that deals with employer penalties and fines for workplace injury or death usually order small fines for employers found guilty of negligence and these fines can be claimed against their insurance. 

This system spares employers from facing the consequences of their actions, even if these actions have resulted in the serious injury or death of an employee.

Respondents of the survey overwhelmingly agreed that the current regime does not impose penalties significant enough to make employers take employee safety seriously.

The ACTU has been campaigning to change this to ensure employers face tougher, fairer penalties when found guilty of work health and safety negligence. 

Insecure work leads to higher rates of workplace injury 

The findings of the survey confirm that injuries are very much a lived experience for workers.

Alarmingly those respondents who were in casual or labour hire contracts were more likely to have died at work or as a result of a workplace injury. 

The data shows that the growing rate of insecure work might only cause this number to rise, with issues such as workplace abuse, depression and anxiety as well as bullying all being experienced by people in insecure work. 

Role of unions

Amongst the grim findings of the survey, there was a positive element amongst responders in regard to the role unions play in creating safer workplaces.

The survey confirmed that union workplaces are safer workplaces, due to a number of factors from greater consultation through to on the job advocacy.

IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said that unions play an essential role in ensuring workers have a support network to turn to when they are concerned about their safety at work.

“Being a union member means having a collective voice to raise concerns about workplace safety and to push for legislative reform that ensures that all workplaces are safe ones,” said Mr Burke.

“We need to call for urgent action from the government to prevent further illnesses, injuries and deaths that have resulted from employment.

“This starts with better legislation that holds employers accountable for the safety and wellbeing of their employees in their workplaces.”  

If you are concerned about your safety at work, please contact our union via FREECALL 1800 177 937 or email industrial@qieu.asn.au. 

View the full Work Shouldn’t Hurt report here

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.