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Training both workers and senior managers, including board members, in best-practice approaches to workplace health and safety (WHS) must remain a priority if heavy industry is to further reduce workplace fatalities.

The manufacturing industry has the highest average incidence and frequency rate of serious workers’ compensation claims for the five-year period from 2004–05 to 2008–09 compared to other industries, latest Safe Work Australia figures reveal (Work Health and Safety Perceptions: Manufacturing Industry, February 2015).

In 2011-12 (provisional national workers’ compensation data), the incidence rate of serious workers’ compensation claims for manufacturing was 18.4 per 1000 workers, which was 1.6 times the rate of all industries (11.4 per 1000 workers).


Positive signs

Despite these seemingly gloomy figures, manufacturing’s performance in regard to injuries and fatalities has improved in recent times.

From a peak of 2.83 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2008, the fatality incidence rate fell dramatically to 1.87 (2012) and 1.07 (2013) – with the 2013 figure lower than the historically “safer” sector of administrative and support services.

Whether that trend is repeated in the next set of SWA’s Work Related Traumatic Fatalities Australia figures, due out in two months, remains to be seen.

Regardless, for an industry with a long history of serous claims, training workers, line managers and senior management in best practice approaches to WHS must remain a key priority for employers if the industry is to continue to improve its performance, AlertForce believes.


Machinery incidents remain a concern

Of the four industries with the highest number of fatalities in the 10 years between 2003 and 2013 – transport, postal and warehousing (664), agriculture, forestry and fishing (629), construction (402) and manufacturing (244), manufacturing is the only one where

the proportion of fatalities due to a vehicle collision in the manufacturing industry is relatively low (23% compared with 41% nationally).

However, manufacturing has higher proportions of hit by falling object (16%), trapped by objects (which includes being trapped between stationary and moving objects and being trapped by moving machinery or equipment [19%]), and being hit by moving objects (16%) than in the other industries profiled.

These mechanisms account for between 8% and 12% of worker fatalities nationally.


Key findings

The most common self-reported exposures in the manufacturing industry were exposure to airborne hazards, noise and vibration, SWA’s Work Related Traumatic Fatalities Australia 2013 figures reveal.

Most workers with exposure to noise were provided with some type of control.

However, about one in seven workers with exposure to airborne hazards and vibration were not provided with any control measure for these hazards.

According to the majority of workers and employers in manufacturing, work health and safety activities such as using personal protective equipment, identifying health and safety risks and removing hazards are undertaken ‘most of the time’ or ‘always’.

More than 80% of manufacturing employers reported that they provide health and safety training, have a work health and safety policy, have procedures for reporting work-related injuries and ill health and procedures for controlling hazards. Generally, a higher proportion of manufacturing employers reported undertaking these activities compared to employers in other priority industries. However, small manufacturing businesses were usually less likely to undertake these activities compared to large manufacturing businesses.


Areas for improvement

A few areas for improvement for control measures for specific hazards were identified in a separate SWA’s survey, National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS).

A considerable proportion (14%) of workers who reported exposure to airborne hazards and 14% of workers who were exposed to vibration reported that no control measures were provided for these hazards.

However, despite its high rate of work-related injury and illness, the industry appears to be doing well in terms of general work health and safety activities, SWA reports. The vast majority of workers reported undertaking work health and safety activities such as using PPE provided and making work practices safe. More employers reported that their workplace undertake a specific activity compared to workers, suggesting that there is a slight mismatch between employers and workers on how consistently these work health and safety activities are undertaken.

The largest discrepancy was for discussing health and safety concerns in the workplace. Almost all (99%) employers reported this compared to 73% of workers SWA’s WHS Perceptions Survey.


Training on the up

In terms of health and safety training, the manufacturing industry is doing well, SWA reports. SWA’s 2012 WHS Perceptions Survey of Employers showed that a large majority of employers in manufacturing (87%) provided health and safety training to their workers in the last 12 months. The proportion is 71% among employers in other priority industries.

SWA’s Regulatory Burden Survey 2013 also showed the high rate of internal and external staff training among manufacturing businesses. However, both surveys indicated that small businesses were less likely to provide health and safety training compared to medium and large businesses. Increased capacity and support for small businesses to provide health and safety training and undertake other compliance activities is needed, SWA says.

Other areas that could be targeted for improvement in health and safety activities include inclusion of contractors in health and safety induction training if required and addressing bullying and fatigue.

In general, manufacturing employers and workers believed that they have the knowledge and skills to protect themselves and others at work. Both groups also had positive perceptions about management actions to improve health and safety and safety communication in the workplace. There was an expectation by employers that workers will follow safety rules in their workplace and most workers reported following organisational rules on work health and safety.

However, at least one in five workers and employers accepted risk taking if there is time pressure. More research is needed to better understand risk-taking behaviours in this industry, SWA says.



Further information can be found at:

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