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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2002  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 09/05/2002   
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Contents >> Health >> Risk Factors: Work-related injuries

Health Risk Factors: Work-related injuries

In 2000, the rate of injury for male workers was 60 per 1,000, compared with 36 per 1,000 for female workers.

Work-related injuries range in seriousness from minor cuts and bruises to major injuries and illnesses or death. They may affect a person's health, through immediate or long term pain, suffering or disability, and impact their economic wellbeing through health expenses and lost income. Employers also incur costs when workers are injured, through lost working days or lower productivity and the cost of workers' compensation insurance. Information on work-related injury is used for planning occupational health and safety measures and appropriate financial compensation of people who suffer a work-related injury.

The most extreme result of work-related injury or illness is death. According to the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, in 1999-2000 there were 346 compensated fatalities in Australia, of which 84 resulted from accidents on the journey to or from work and 262 from workplace activities. As not all work-related deaths result in compensation, the total number of work-related deaths is thought to be higher.1

In 1999-2000, the most common type of non-fatal compensated injuries or illness, which resulted in at least 10 days off work, were sprains and strains of joints and adjacent muscles, accounting for 54% of claims. Back injuries accounted for 25% of claims, making the back the most commonly injured part of the body. Consistent with these data, 'body stressing' was the most common way that injuries arose, accounting for 44% of claims. Non-powered tools or equipment were involved in the injury in 25%of all claims, and environmental causes, such as slippery ground surfaces, high traffic areas, or steps and stairways, were involved in 14%.2 In all, 92,900 such claims were lodged, indicating that in 2000 about 1% of the workforce were compensated for a non-fatal injury or illness which entailed at least 10 days off work.

Not all work-related injuries and illnesses result in compensation. Household surveys supplement compensation data with information on the broader pattern of non-fatal work-related injury.


Work-related injuries
The latest ABS data on work-related injuries were collected in September 2000, through supplementary questions included in the monthly Labour Force Survey. Respondents to the survey aged 15 years and over, who had worked at some time in the previous 12 months, were asked whether they had experienced any work-related injuries or illnesses in the previous 12 months. Work-related injuries or illnesses which resulted in death were excluded from the survey.

Work-related injury is broadly defined as an injury or illness sustained as a result of work activities, or on a journey to or from work, or by aggravation of pre-existing conditions where employment was a contributory factor.

An injured worker is one who experienced a work-related injury or illness in the 12 months to September 2000.

For any group, the injury rate is the number of people who had experienced a work-related injury or illness in the 12 months to September 2000, as a proportion of the total population of the group.

Nature and circumstances of injuries - National data on the nature and circumstances of work-related injuries of employees are compiled by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC), based on successful claims dealt with by State and Territory workers' compensation authorities. The most recent NOHSC data are based on successful claims that arose in 1999-2000 (but exclude data from the ACT, which were not available). These claims ranged in seriousness from those that involved a temporary condition to those involving permanent disability and death. In this article, the NOHSC data on non-fatal injuries are limited to claims that involved at least 10 days off work, and exclude journey to work claims, in order to ensure a common scope across the States and Territories.


Work-related injuries
In September 2000, close to 478,000 people had experienced at least one work-related injury or illness in the previous 12 months. They made up 5% of people aged 15 years and over who had worked in that period. Not all of the injuries resulted in time being taken off work or in an application for workers' compensation. About 64% of those injured took at least part of a day off work and about 40% received workers' compensation.

More than twice as many men as women had experienced a work-related injury (324,000 compared with 154,000). There are more men in the workforce, so a higher number of work-related injuries is expected. However, the difference was mostly due to their higher rate of injury - 60 per 1,000 of men who had worked in the previous 12 months, compared with 36 per 1,000 for women. The greater tendency for men to have hazardous occupations is likely to explain much of this difference in overall rates of injury for men and women.

INJURED WORKERS(a) - 2000

Injured workers
Rate of injury


'000
%
per 1,000 workers

Males
323.9
67.8
59.8
Females
154.0
32.2
36.1
Some time off work
304.2
63.7
. .
    5 days or more off work
163.8
34.3
. .
Received workers' compensation
189.4
39.6
. .
Total
477.8
100.0
49.3

(a) Injured in the 12 months to September 2000.

Source: Work-related injuries, Australia, September 2000 (ABS cat. No. 6324.0).


Occupation
The highest numbers and rates of injury were observed for occupations which are likely to involve physical labour. The highest rates of injury were experienced by Intermediate production and transport workers (95 per 1,000 workers), a group that includes plant and machine operators and road and rail drivers. The rate for Labourers and related workers was almost as high (93 per 1,000 workers). This group includes factory hands and cleaners as well as labourers in construction, mining and similar fields. Tradespersons and related workers (78 per 1,000 workers) ranked third. Together, these three occupation groups accounted for 52% of all those who had experienced a work-related injury in the previous 12 months. The injury rates for other occupations ranged from 13 per 1,000 for Advanced clerical and service workers (which encompasses occupations such as bookkeepers and insurance agents) to 45 per 1,000 for Associate professionals (a group which includes enrolled nurses, medical and science technical officers, and managing supervisors in sales, hospitality and accommodation, and other occupations).

The majority of injured Tradespersons and related workers, Labourers and related workers and Intermediate production and transport workers were men (86% of these three occupation groups combined). This was mostly because many more men than women were employed in these occupations (men made up 81% of workers in the three combined). In the case of Tradespersons and related workers and Labourers and related workers (but not Intermediate production and transport workers), there were also considerably higher rates of injury for men than women.

It is difficult to make a direct comparison of men and women's injury rates using broad occupation groups because men and women tend to have different occupations within these groups, and these occupations may be associated with different injury risks. For example, in 2000 the largest single group of female Tradespersons and related workers were Food tradespersons (24%), while the largest single group of male Tradespersons and related workers were Construction tradespersons (26%).

The most common broad occupation groups for women who had experienced a work-related injury in the previous 12 months were Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers (42,100), Professionals (31,000) and Labourers (22,000). The highest rates were observed for Intermediate production and transport workers (91 per 1,000 workers) and Labourers and related workers (67 per 1,000).

INJURED WORKERS(a): OCCUPATION - 2000

Injured workers
Rate of injury


Males
Females
Persons
Males
Females
Persons
Occupation group(b)
'000
'000
'000
per 1,000 workers
per 1,000 workers
per 1,000 workers

Intermediate production and transport workers
65.3
9.4
74.7
95.1
91.2
94.6
Labourers and related workers
59.7
22.0
81.7
108.0
66.9
92.7
Tradespersons and related workers
89.1
*4.6
93.7
82.2
*39.0
78.0
Associate professionals
27.1
18.4
45.5
42.4
48.3
44.5
Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers
20.6
42.1
62.8
47.0
38.2
40.8
Managers and administrators
20.6
*3.7
24.3
42.5
*24.8
38.3
Elementary clerical, sales and service workers
14.8
18.4
33.2
50.6
31.2
37.6
Professionals
25.5
31.2
56.7
31.2
38.9
35.0
Advanced clerical and service workers
*1.1
*4.2
5.2
*25.0
*11.7
13.1

(a) Injured in the 12 months to September 2000.
(b) Occupation of job in which most recent work-related injury or illness occurred.

Source: ABS 2000 Work-related Injuries Survey.


Industry
The industries accounting for the largest numbers of injured workers were Manufacturing (91,800), Retail trade (54,100), Health and community services (52,900), Construction (49,100) and Transport and storage (32,700). The large number of people who had experienced an injury in these industries was partly due to the size of their workforces. That said, three of these groups also had relatively high injury rates (ranking among the top five).

Mining, which has relatively few employees, and accounted for 7,000 of those injured, had the highest injury rate, 89 per 1,000 workers. Manufacturing (81 per 1,000 ), Transport and storage (80 per 1,000) and Construction (70 per 1,000) ranked next, followed by the Agriculture, forestry and fishing industry (66 per 1,000). Within most industries men had a higher rate of injury than women. This is consistent with the different occupations that men and women tend to have within industries.

INJURED WORKERS(a): INDUSTRY - 2000

Injured workers
Rate of injury


Males
Females
Persons
Males
Females
Persons
Industry(b)
'000
'000
'000
per 1,000 workers
per 1,000 workers
per 1,000 workers

Mining
6.0
*1.1
7.0
85.9
*111.8
89.0
Manufacturing
76.1
15.7
91.8
92.1
51.1
81.1
Transport and storage
28.9
*3.8
32.7
93.2
*38.6
80.0
Construction
47.1
*2.0
49.1
76.3
*22.7
69.6
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
24.3
*4.6
29.0
79.8
*34.3
65.8
Health and community services
11.8
41.1
52.9
66.4
61.8
62.7
Electricity, gas and water supply
*3.4
**0.4
*3.8
*64.3
**39.7
*60.0
Accommodation, cafes and restaurants
12.6
14.0
26.6
63.8
56.0
59.4
Communication services
8.1
*1.6
9.7
67.3
*28.6
55.0
Cultural and recreational services
9.7
*2.5
12.1
82.5
*24.0
55.1
Personal and other services
13.9
4.5
18.4
76.1
26.9
52.7
Retail trade
29.4
24.7
54.1
46.3
35.9
40.9
Government administration and defence
10.4
*4.0
14.4
54.8
*25.4
41.5
Education
8.9
16.4
25.2
45.0
39.5
41.3
Wholesale trade
14.9
*3.5
18.4
45.3
*24.4
38.8
Property and business services
15.9
9.4
25.3
28.3
20.8
25.0
Finance and insurance
*2.5
*4.8
7.4
*17.2
*26.0
22.1

(a) Injured in the 12 months to September 2000.
(b) Industry of job in which most recent work-related injury or illness occurred.

Source: ABS 2000 Work-related Injuries Survey.


Time off work and workers' compensation
Loss of income due to time off work is one of the main expenses a person with a work-related injury can incur, and for which they may be eligible to make a workers' compensation claim. In Victoria, a person with a temporary condition must be off work for more than 10 days before workers' compensation might be available (for shorter times off due to work-related injury, the employer is expected to pay). In other States, there is no minimum time off work before workers' compensation would apply.

Consistent with many injuries being minor, 36% of the 477,800 injured workers in 2000 took no time off work, and more than half did not apply for workers' compensation (54%). The proportion who applied for workers' compensation increased with the amount of time taken off work - from 22% of those who took no time off work to 70% of those who took 10 days or more. Of those who applied, most received workers' compensation (87%).

INJURED WORKERS(a): TIME TAKEN OFF WORK - 2000

(a) Injured in the 12 months to September 2000.

Source: Work-related injuries, Australia, September 2000 (ABS cat. no. 6324.0).


The leading reasons given for not applying for workers' compensation varied according to length of time off work. Among those who took from no time to less than 5 days off work, the leading reason was that workers' compensation was not necessary, or that the injury was minor (58%). The next most common reasons were not being covered by workers' compensation, or not being aware of coverage (11%) and not being eligible for workers' compensation for the injury (6%). In contrast, among those who took 5 days or more off work the leading reason was not being covered by workers' compensation, or not being aware of coverage (28%), followed by not being eligible for workers' compensation for the injury (18%). The minor nature of the injury, or workers' compensation not being necessary, ranked third (14%).

INJURED WORKERS(a): WHETHER RECEIVED WORKERS' COMPENSATION - 2000

Days/shifts off work

Whether applied for and whether received workers' compensation
None
Part
1-4
5-10
11 or more
Total

%
%
%
%
%
%
Didn't apply
77.6
63.0
48.2
39.0
30.2
54.4
Applied
22.4
37.0
51.8
61.0
69.8
45.6
    Received
18.4
35.3
44.9
53.8
61.0
39.6
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total
173.6
23.5
116.8
52.6
111.2
477.8

(a) Injured in the 12 months to September 2000.

Source: Work-related injuries, Australia, September 2000 (ABS cat. no. 6324.0).


Who applied?
Workers' compensation regulations are directed at those who work for others, including those in indirect relationships such as subcontractors, rather than at the self-employed. Therefore it is not surprising that own account workers and employers who were injured were much less likely to apply for workers’ compensation than were employees. (Less than 10% of injured own account workers and employers applied compared with 50% of employees). Nevertheless, employees predominate in the workforce and so the great majority of those who did not apply for compensation were in fact employees (82%). Part-time workers were somewhat less likely to apply than were full-time workers (39% applied compared with 47%). Employees without leave entitlements were less likely to apply than employees with leave entitlements (37% compared with 54%). The likelihood of applying for compensation also varied according to occupation. Intermediate production and transport workers were the group most likely to apply (60%), followed by Labourers (54%), while Managers and administrators were the least likely to apply(20%).

INJURED WORKERS(a): PROPORTION WHO APPLIED FOR WORKERS' COMPENSATION AND TIME TAKEN OFF WORK - 2000

(a) Injured in the 12 months to September 2000.

Source: Work-related injuries, Australia, September 2000 (ABS cat. no. 6324.0).

PERSONS WHO HAD EXPERIENCED A WORK-RELATED INJURY(a): WHETHER APPLIED FOR WORKERS' COMPENSATION - 2000

Applied
Received
Injured workers
Selected characteristics(b)
%
%
'000

Status in employment
    Employee
50.1
43.6
425.5
    Employer
**7.5
**4.2
9.6
    Own account worker
9.6
*7.9
42.4
Full-time or part-time status
    Employed, working full-time
47.3
41.2
375.7
    Employed, working part-time
38.6
33.4
101.1
Leave entitlement status of employees
    Employee, with leave entitlements
53.8
47.2
329.5
    Employee, without leave entitlements
37.1
31.2
96.0
Occupation
    Managers and administrators
19.8
17.6
24.3
    Professionals
37.1
31.6
56.7
    Associate professionals
40.2
35.4
45.5
    Tradespersons and related workers
49.3
43.1
93.7
    Advanced clerical and service workers
*36.1
*24.9
5.2
    Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers
39.2
33.3
62.8
    Intermediate production and transport workers
59.5
51.2
74.7
    Elementary clerical, sales and service workers
37.6
29.8
33.2
    Labourers and related workers
54.0
49.4
81.7
Total
45.6
39.6
477.8

(a) Injured in the 12 months to September 2000.
(b) Characteristics of the job in which the person's most recent work-related injury occurred.

Source: Work-related injuries, Australia, September 2000 (ABS cat. no. 6324.0).


Other assistance
Medical bills and loss of earnings while ill are the two most common costs faced by a person who sustains a work-related injury or illness. As well as workers’ compensation schemes, many people with a work-related injury or illness accessed some other types of financial assistance. The most commonly used types of assistance were regular sick leave funded by the employer, and Medicare benefits, each used by 14% of all those who had experienced a work-related injury in the previous 12 months. Other types of assistance accessed were employer payments other than paid sick leave (7%), private health insurance (4%), income protection insurance (2%) and social security (2%).

A total of 152,400 people (32% of those who experienced a work-related illness or injury in the previous 12 months) received neither workers' compensation nor any other financial assistance. Of these, 67% took no time off work.

Endnotes
1 National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, NOHSC: Work-related Fatalities in Australia, 1989-1992, <URL:NOHSC.gov.au/statistics/ fatalities/Work-related Fatalities Reports> (accessed 27 February 2002).

2 National Occupational Health and Safety Commission 2002, National Online Statistical Information (NOSI) database, <URL:NOHSC.info.au.com/> (accessed 18 March 2002).


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