Around the globe, April 28 marks International Workers’ Memorial Day, or IWMD. With a slogan of ‘remember the dead, fight for the living’, this day highlights the tragic consequences that can arise when work heath and safety rules aren’t taken seriously.

Every year, IWMD is an opportunity for workers to remember their colleagues and focus on the steps that need to be taken to ensure those tragedies do not happen again. In 2014, the theme of IWMD is ‘protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights’.

In Australia, we have legislation and policies in place to promote safe working practices around the country. There are guidelines and model codes of practice available for matters such as asbestos removal, working at heights, traffic management, construction safety and more.

However, in spite of these regulations, the impact of work-related injuries and fatalities continues to affect businesses, families and the economy every year.

Workplace incidents in Australia

Workers across different industries are put at various risks through the course of their jobs. This could be falling from height at a construction site, colliding with powered mobile plant in a warehouse, getting trapped in a confined space or any other activity that puts their health and wellbeing in danger.

According to Safe Work Australia, in the year to April 28 2014, 58 employees died at work. A total of 25 were from the transport, postal and warehousing sector, 13 were from agriculture, forestry & fishing, six occurred in the mining industry and the sectors of construction, manufacturing, arts & recreation services recorded three worker fatalities each during this period.

Two worker fatalities were recorded in accommodation & food services, and one fatality in each of the sectors of rental, hiring & real estate services, health care & social assistance and electricity, gas, water & waste services.

Work-related injuries also represent a significant burden, not only for the worker himself or herself but for their families and employers as well. Between July 2006 and June 2009, approximately 73,400 employees had to be hospitalised due to an injury sustained while working for income.

These incidents resulted in various types of physical injuries. The most common was fractures, which accounted for 27 per cent of all work-related hospitalisations during this period, followed by open wounds (18 per cent) and injuries of the muscle and tendons (12 per cent). During this time, the most common causes of a work-related injury included exposure to mechanical forces (46 per cent), falls (16 per cent), transport accidents (9.1 per cent), overexertion (5.1 per cent) and exposure to mechanical forces – such as being struck by cattle (2.5 per cent).

What are some of the obstacles facing WHS?

Both the people conducting a business or undertaking (the employer) and staff members have a responsibility to uphold the necessary WHS policies. Unfortunately, there are some obstacles that make this more difficult – thereby heightening the risk of a workplace incident.

One thing to think about when creating your WHS policy is the entrenched attitudes and perceptions that may already exist around the topic. A review of the literature around WHS in Australia found attitudes (settled ways of thinking or feeling) could influence action related to work, health and safety policies. For example, an attitude that workers are mostly at fault in cases of death, injury or disease, will have a profound influence on the way WHS policies are set and implemented in that workplace.

These attitudes are entwined with motivations, perceptions, willingness and capacity – all of which affect the success and level of quality of a WHS strategy. Motivations for creating and following a new WHS policy can range from legal, economic, social, or emotional but it’s important to understand what motivates different levels of your company before putting your policy into action.

Perceptions can have a direct influence on health and safety because they affect how workers and others choose to see risks and hazards in the workplace. A perception that a site is less dangerous than it really is can have severe consequences, which is why health and safety training can be beneficial for boosting worker knowledge.

Any WHS policy needs to take into account the willingness and capacity of the organisation and individual workers to follow and understand the guidelines. No policy will be effective if it can’t be followed through consistently, so make sure yours is tailored for this aspect of your company.

To find out more on preventing and minimising risks to worker health and safety, contact the AlertForce team today.

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