Injuries at work deserve same science as cancer

Friday, 20 July, 2007

With incidents at work leaving one in every 200 Australians with permanent injuries and costing the economy more than $34 billion, the field should be researched scientifically in the same manner and to the degree that cancer and strokes are, says Roger Kahler, principal consultant and director of The InterSafe Group, in a presentation at the recent Queensland Safety Conference.

Kahler points to lower mortality rates due to the major killers - heart disease, stroke and cancer - and says the scientific rigour that has saved lives from disease could also save lives at work: "This change occurred through motivated individuals who have perceived and understood the problem. In their search for truth, they use appropriate models, and they form and test hypotheses and make deductions that result in courses of action which produce deliverable results. Why should occupational health and safety be any different?"

In the year 2000/01, Kahler says there were a total of 480,222 injuries in the Australian workplace. These injuries ranged from permanent damage and death, to minor injuries such as sprains and bruises. The total direct and indirect cost to business and society of these injuries was $34.3 billion.

"To set this cost in context, it was approximately twice the cost of running our army for that year, and exceeded coal, iron ore and wheat exports for the year 2001/02," Kahler explained.

Adequate data on the causes of injury at work would see the number and cost of these injuries fall, Kahler says.

In his presentation on why the future of occupational health and safety must look different to the past, Kahler also discussed why terms such as 'accident' and 'incident' are misnomers: "These words have strong overtones of chance, misfortune or of an unlucky event. But the damage which is occurring is entirely predictable."

In his presentation at the Queensland Safety Conference, Kahler challenged the current occupational health and safety thinking and outlined a brighter and safer future in the Australian workplace.

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