Report reveals the cost of workplace injury, illness in Australia

Tuesday, 11 June, 2024

Report reveals the cost of workplace injury, illness in Australia

Approximately 41,000 full-time workers are being lost each year to workplace-related injury and illness, according to research by Monash University. The researchers used data on occupational injury claims to determine how many people are taking time off work due to workplace injuries and illnesses, and how long they are out for. From 2012–2017, the researchers found that 41,000 working years were lost annually, with an average of 150,000 people requiring time off. The types of injuries resulting in the biggest loss of working years were traumatic joint and muscle injuries (40%) and musculoskeletal disorders (20.7%), with mental health conditions in third place at 13%.

The study aimed to determine the national burden of working time lost to occupational injury and disease in Australia compensable by workers compensation schemes; to characterise the distribution of time lost by age, sex and injury and disease type.

Being employed has a range of health benefits at the individual and population levels, including a lower risk of depression, better physical health, lower public health care expenditure and lower age-specific mortality. However, being unable to work because of injury or illness contributed to poorer mental health, shorter life expectancy, chronic back pain and a greater risk of suicide. Many health conditions can impair the ability to work, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions.

The research suggests that effective prevention and occupational rehabilitation can mitigate these negative health consequences. In Australia, workers compensation schemes operated by state, territory and federal governments cover 94% of workers. When employment is a contributing factor for an injury or illness, workers can apply for wage replacement benefits while off work, as well as support with costs for health care and other services. Workers can only seek compensation for a single compensable injury or disease, not for concurrent or pre-existing health conditions. Workers compensation schemes are largely similar across Australia, with some differences in eligibility criteria for receiving benefits and the amount and duration of wage replacement benefits.

Over the past 20 years, access to workers compensation in Australia has become more restricted and the level of benefits reduced, despite evidence for a growing need for support, including for injured workers experiencing psychological distress. The increasing prevalence of chronic diseases among working-age people and the shift to a service-based economy influence the nature of work-related injury and disease in Australia.

The researchers analysed data from the National Dataset for Compensation-based Statistics (NDS), compiled by SafeWork Australia. The claims analysed included wage replacement payments lodged between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2017, a timeframe chosen to balance recency of data with a manageable sample size and because a two-year follow-up period was required for assessing the primary outcome. Claims for workers under 15 years or older than 100 years of age were excluded, as were claims for fatal injuries and those for which information about sex, nature of the injury or disease, occupation or industry were missing.

The research revealed that during the five years to June 2017, compensable occupational injury and disease in Australia resulted in lost working time equivalent to more than 41,000 jobs lost per annum, distributed across about 150,000 workers compensation claims per year. These research findings illustrate the large impact of work-related injury and disease on productivity and labour. As employment is generally good for health, these research findings indicate that occupational rehabilitation and programs that support returning to work after injury or disease are as crucial for the health of workers as primary prevention.

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