How can we boost safety in Victoria’s construction sector?
Victoria is one of the safest places to work in Australia, according to Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips.
He made the announcement in a December 31 statement, revealing the number of work-related injuries in the state is on the decline.
"The Victorian Coalition Government has worked with employers and employees to ensure workplace safety continues to be a priority and ensure that those workers injured at work are able to return as soon as possible," said Mr Rich-Phillips.
Information collected by the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) shows that in the year to September 2013, the amount of claims being made for work-related injuries fell by an impressive seven per cent.
While during the previous 12-month period, there were 7.98 claims per million hours worked, that rate has now dropped to 7.42 claims per million hours worked. This is a record low for the state.
Mr Rich-Phillips was proud of the result, stating that Victoria "continues to set the standard for workplaces in occupational health and safety across Australia".
He added the state was "on track" to see the number of work-related injuries get smaller over the coming year.
However, there are some who disagree with this statement – and they've got their own statistics to back their opinions up.
Though, as a whole, Victoria may be one of the safest places to work in Australia, there is one sector in the state that stands to improve when it comes to occupational health and safety.
According to the latest facts and figures published by WorkSafe Victoria, around 50 people from the construction industry are seriously injured each week and unable to work as a result.
The organisation states that, more often than not, these injuries are due to basic construction site safety practices not being "up to scratch".
Australia's construction industry
The construction sector is one of the most dangerous in Australia.
Across the country, just over one million people are employed in the industry – a number that represents a whopping 9 per cent of the entire workforce. Around 225,000 of these people work in Victoria's construction sector alone, and it's one of the fastest growing industries in the state.
Between 2011 and 2012, a total of 13,735 claims were made for work-related injuries in the construction sector in each state and territory. Safe Work Australia demonstrates that during the five years from 2007-08 to 2011-12, the industry was responsible for 11 per cent of all claims that were made Down Under.
That equates to about 39 work-related injuries each day that required one or more weeks off.
So, despite being dubbed one of the safest places to work in Australia, Victoria has a construction sector that sees more work-related injuries than the national average.
While the state's other industries may be leading the way in terms of occupational health and safety, its construction sector doesn't appear to be.
What can be done?
There are a range of pathways open to those who want to reduce the number of work-related injuries in Victoria's construction sector. The following are just a couple.
– Adopt the 2011 WHS Act
One way that has been put forward by numerous groups is adopting the 2011 Work Health and Safety Act.
This set of rules and regulations was introduced three years ago with the purpose of harmonising occupational health and safety laws across the country.
Before 2012, all governments came up with their own laws on this topic, which meant there were discrepancies between different states and territories as to what constituted best practices in occupational health and safety.
In the present day, almost every state and territory has agreed to follow the 2011 Work Health and Safety Act except for two – Western Australia and Victoria.
The latter is still following the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, which many believe contains a lot more "grey areas" than the 2011 Work Health and Safety Act.
In particular, the meaning of certain terms, such as "director and officer duties" is unclear in the document from 2004, leaving it up in the air as to who is responsible for specific areas of occupational health and safety in the workplace.
Treasurer of Victoria, the Hon. Kim Wells MP, said during his budget speech in 2012 the new-and-improved Work Health and Safety Act offered "little benefit for Victoria to offset the $3.4 billion of estimated costs," which is why the government had chosen not to adopt it.
However, the topic "Why Victoria will not adopt the new WHS Harmonisation Laws?" is set to be discussed at the Victorian Safety in Construction Conference, to be held in June, which may help to convince the government that embracing the 2011 Work Health and Safety Act is the best way forward for this industry.
– Make OHS training a priority
Another, complementary road toward better occupational health and safety that workers in Victoria's construction sector might want to take is training – especially in particularly areas that have proved deadly in the past.
Data collected by Safe Work Australia shows that two of the most common causes of serious injuries and deaths on construction sites are falls from heights and vehicle incidents.
Between 2008-09 and 2011-12, falls from heights cost 51 people with construction jobs their lives. A total of 18 fell off buildings, while 15 tumbled off ladders and eight fell off scaffolding.
In addition to this, falls from heights were the reason behind 26 per cent of all claims for work-related injuries during this five-year period.
After falls from heights, vehicle incidents were the second-most common causes of death in Australia's construction industry. A shocking 34 people were killed as a result of such accidents between 2008-09 and 2011-12, with 21 involving workers in cars and 10 involving workers in trucks.
A further 29 people were killed as a result of being hit by moving objects, such as vehicles. A total of 16 per cent of all claims for work-related injuries were made as a result of being hit by moving objects.
In order to prevent more people from being injured or killed by falls from heights and being hit by moving objects, both employers and employees in Victoria's construction industry should consider Working at Heights and Traffic Management training.
AlertForce offers a range of courses in both areas of the construction sector, which will provide workers with a good grounding in best practices and help them to keep both themselves and their co-workers safe on site.
Our Working at Heights training with equip workers with the skills and knowledge to perform tasks safely on ladders and scaffolds, as well as understand how to identify, assess and manage the risks associated with working on an elevated level.
Traffic Management training, on the other hand, will provide you with the ability to maintain traffic control and promote a safe working environment that includes vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
For more information, get in touch with the AlertForce team today!
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