What workplace injury and illness really costs

Monash University

Wednesday, 19 June, 2024

What workplace injury and illness really costs

A new Monash University metric has now been able to measure the national burden imposed by workplace injury and illness.

Published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the study aimed to quantify the national burden of working time lost to compensable occupational injury and disease and how working time lost is distributed across age, sex, injury and disease.

The ‘Working Years Lost’ metric found that Australia loses 41,194 work years annually due to work-related injury, disease and mental health conditions. This equals more than 41,000 lost jobs.

Professor Alex Collie from Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine said it was the first time such figures had been collated.

“Normally we track injury and disease at work by counting the number of people making compensation claims or the amount of time they spend off work,” he said.

“This new measure combines those two concepts and presents it as something more meaningful, which can be summarised as the number of people off work for a full year.”

Collie said the working years lost (WYL) measure provided a different view of the ‘challenge’ of workplace injury.

“The impact of some types of injury and disease are more accurately represented in this new metric,” he said.

“For instance, mental health conditions have a much higher percentage of working years lost than of workers compensation claims. This is because we take the long time off work for each mental health claim into account, whereas simply counting claims does not do this.”

The national study covered people with accepted workers compensation claims and receiving wage replacement benefits for time off work, lodged between July 2012 and June 2017.

Male workers incurred 25,367 (61.6%) WYL while female workers accounted for 15,827 (38.4%). A total of 21,763 WYL (52.8%) were from workers aged over 45 years, despite these workers accounting for 66,742 (44.1%) accepted claims.

Traumatic injury resulted in 16,494 (40%) WYL per annum, followed by musculoskeletal disorders (8547 WYL, 20.7%) and mental health conditions (5361 WYL, 13%).

“Annually, compensable occupational injury and disease in Australia results in a substantial burden of lost working time, equivalent to over 41,000 lost jobs,” Collie said.

“The distribution of burden reflects the higher labour force participation of males, slower rehabilitation in older workers and the relative impact of common occupational injuries and diseases. Effective occupational health surveillance, policy development and resource allocation will benefit from population-based monitoring of working time loss.”

Image credit: iStock.com/skynesher

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