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Safety an investment

A WORKER is killed on average every 17 days or injured every 25 minutes in Western Australian workplaces with time lost to workplace injuries costing WA businesses about $382 million each year.

Also concerning are the economic and social impacts on employees and their families.

With this in mind, WorkSafe’s ThinkSafe safety campaign is aimed at reducing the incidence of workplace injuries.

Gail McGowan, the Department of Consumer Employment and Protection associate director of Policy and Education, said WorkSafe aimed to focus on the prevention of workplace injury and the education of employers and employees.

“What we are trying to do is focus on prevention. However, it is hard to do a cost-benefit analysis to get people to think about safety as an investment,” she said.

Ms McGowan said society had a tendency to think about workplace injury in terms of visible injury, such as amputations or lacerations.

But while many workplace injuries are less visible, they can have a disruptive effect on workplace efficiency, with new and young workers particularly at risk.

Such situations include when workers are harmed from hazardous substances, electricity, falls, lifting, slipping or tripping over.

“About 30 per cent of all workers’ compensation claims are to do with manual handling, for example back injuries,” Ms McGowan said.

She said about 40,000 people submitted workers’ compensation claims each year, with half of these resulting in a ‘lost time’ injury.

Ms McGowan said the average cost of a compensation claim was $14,000.

The ThinkSafe campaign has been running since 1996, with its first five years targeting a broad audience, but in particular small and medium sized businesses.

In 2001, the State Government launched a new direction for the ThinksSafe campaign called “The First Step”, focused on identifying risks and risk management.

The 2002 ThinkSafe campaign was, as the name suggested, aimed at managing common workplace hazards.

Ms McGowan said the 2003 ThinkSafe campaign brought the work from the previous two years together and would emphasise the importance of cooperation in the workplace.

This year’s campaign will focus on the transport, construction, agriculture, retail and aged care industries.

Ms McGowan said while the success of the campaign was difficult to precisely measure, the statistics of workplace injury and workers’ compensation showed a decline for less severe injuries since WorkSafe was established in 1988.

However, the incidence of serious injuries had remained fairly static, she said.

“While the overall trend is downwards, and that is pleasingly so, it is starting to plateau,” Ms McGowan told WA Business News.

However, she said the ThinkSafe campaign represented good value for money.

“As one of the [State] Government-run campaigns, it [the WorkSafe campaign] is one of the more successful and enduring,” Ms McGowan said.

“We run it on a budget of about $500,000 per year, which compared with other campaigns such as Road Safety is a fairly lean and mean campaign.”

She said WorkSafe conducted extensive baseline research in 2001 with a focus on small business.

According to WorkSafe statistics, there are about 126,000 small businesses in WA, accounting for 96.5 per cent of all private sector businesses.

Of the small businesses surveyed, 98 per cent had heard of WorkSafe, however 79 per cent considered there was a low or extremely low level of risk of injury to employees in their workplace. Ms McGowan said this meant ThinkSafe policies might not necessarily be put into action.

The survey results also showed a higher awareness of WorkSafe and its responsibilities in those workplaces that had been visited by an inspector.

Further, the survey showed that most employees of small business believed the primary role of WorkSafe was to provide information and advice, which was double the proportion who thought its role was one of prosecuting breaches of safety standards.

A further 19 per cent believed compliance with occupational safety and health legislation was necessary to avoid prosecution, while 69 per cent saw compliance with legislation as important in protecting the safety of workers and preventing injury.

The survey also showed that half of the small businesses surveyed didn’t know any detail of occupational safety and health laws, compared with a quarter of medium businesses.

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