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Evidence

Safe Work Australia continues to play a vital role in building, maintaining and promoting the evidence base around WHS and workers’ compensation policy and practice in Australia. The data and research we produce keeps a spotlight on the incidence of work-related death, injury and illness in Australia and builds the evidence base for how we may continue to improve outcomes for injured workers and their employers.

We are the custodians of key national WHS and workers’ compensation data which provides information on work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities. We compile, analyse and report this data, to support a nationally coordinated and cooperative approach to WHS and workers’ compensation policy and practice. In 2019–20 we:

  • responded to around 500 requests for statistical information
  • published 8 major statistical and research reports
  • conducted an evaluation of the 2018 National Return to Work Survey
  • developed a new framework to guide our research activities
  • developed the National Work Health and Safety Prosecutions Database
  • published new data codes to help jurisdictions collect accurate data on COVID-19, and
  • supported a range of other COVID-19 work across the agency.

We published a range of evidence-based and research reports, including:

  • Key work health and safety statistics Australia 2019
  • Australian workers’ compensation statistics 2017–18
  • Work-related traumatic injury fatalities in Australia 2018
  • Comparative performance monitoring 2019–20, 21st edition, Parts 1–3
  • Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Australia, and
  • Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces, 5th edition.

COVID-19

During the pandemic outbreak, we worked quickly with states and territories to develop new data codes so that COVID-19-related workers’ compensation claims could be recorded accurately and consistently across Australia. We have encouraged all jurisdictions to adopt these data codes. This will allow us to report on the impacts of the virus on Australian workers and workplaces in the future.

The impact of COVID-19 meant delaying some stakeholder engagement activities. These included the National Return to Work Survey, a major forum on Safe Work Australia’s research priorities, and exposure interviews of mesothelioma patients. Plans are in place to resume these activities when it is safe to do so, or to undertake them in a different format.

Research framework and priorities

In November 2019, Safe Work Australia Members endorsed a new research framework, aimed at improving the transparency and consistency of our research program, prioritising the most important research and reducing duplication with research led by other organisations. To complement the framework, we are consulting with academics and with government, employer and employee representatives to identify national research priorities and questions that will guide our research activities over the next 2 to 3 years.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Australia

We published the Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Australia report in December 2019 to provide a comprehensive overview of the current evidence base on the causes and impacts of these disorders and on related interventions. The report was prepared by leading researchers from La Trobe University.

National Return to Work Survey

In 2019–20, Safe Work Australia conducted an evaluation of the 2018 National Return to Work Survey to inform development of future surveys.

We began work on the 2020 National Return to Work Survey, which was due to commence in March 2020. However, after considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the survey outcomes and weighing the significant privacy and ethical risks, we delayed the 2020 National Return to Work Survey until 2020–21.

Occupational lung diseases

In 2019–20 we sought to address critical evidence gaps related to occupational lung diseases by:

  • working with the AIHW, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Department of Health to investigate data held by the Commonwealth on these diseases
  • investigating the feasibility of a pilot data linkage project to identify new cases of work-related silicosis
  • seeking agreement from the AIHW to add silicosis to its annual Burden of Disease Study, and
  • developing a new proposal for access to occupational disease data held in the National Coronial Information System.

Our datasets

Safe Work Australia plays a key role in developing evidence-informed policy through the compilation and analysis of 4 national data collections:

  • National Dataset for Compensation-based Statistics
  • Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities
  • Comparative Performance Monitoring program, and
  • the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR).

These collections draw on a variety of data sources including administrative data provided by jurisdictions, fatality data from the National Coronial Information System and employment data from the ABS. In addition to the 4 main data collections, we access other relevant data sources to supplement current knowledge of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities. These data sources include disease and injury statistics from the AIHW and survey-based data on work-related injuries from the ABS. We are also working to develop new datasets.

National WHS prosecutions and enforceable undertakings databases

In 2019–20 the agency developed the National Work Health and Safety Prosecutions Database and began to develop the National Work Health and Safety Enforceable Undertakings Database. These databases are intended to capture information on WHS prosecution cases and enforceable undertakings in all jurisdictions. Reporting to the prosecutions database commenced on 1 January 2020.

Australian Mesothelioma Registry

The agency funds the AMR, a standalone database compiled by the AIHW that contains information about people with mesothelioma. The AMR annual report published in August 2019 shows that 699 people died in Australia from mesothelioma in 2018.

A key component of the AMR involves interviewing people diagnosed with mesothelioma to better understand their history of asbestos exposure. These interviews were paused in April 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, but are due to recommence in the second half of the year.

Statistical enquiries service

One of the ways we make our data accessible is through our statistical enquiries service. In 2019–20 we responded to around 500 statistical enquiries from a range of stakeholders, including governments, journalists, academics and the general public. Our customised responses to these requests inform government policy work, academic research and media reporting.

Work health and safety statistics

Traumatic injury fatalities in 2019:

  • 183 workers – 1.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers
  • 32% reduction in rate of fatalities since 2010

Highest fatality industries in 2019:

  • Transport, postal and warehousing:
    • 58 fatalities – 8.7 fatalities per 100,000 workers
    • 11% increase in rate of fatalities since 2010
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing:
    • 30 fatalities – 9.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers
    • 41% reduction in rate of fatalities since 2010
  • Construction:
    • 26 fatalities – 2.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers
    • 46% reduction in rate of fatalities since 2010

Total economic cost of work-related injury and disease:

  • Estimated to be $61.8 billion (4.1% of GDP) for the 2012–13 reference year

Serious claims in 2018–19:*

  • 114,435 serious claims
  • 9.4 serious claims per 1,000 employees

Change in serious claims between 2008–09 and 2017–18:

  • 12% reduction in number of serious claims
  • 26% reduction in incidence rate (claims per 1,000 employees)

All priority industries under the Australian Strategy have witnessed reductions in the incidence rate of serious claims per 1,000 employees between 2008–09 and 2017–18:

  • 29% agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • 32% transport, postal and warehousing
  • 26% manufacturing
  • 23% construction
  • 29% health care and social assistance
  • 26% public administration and safety
  • 32% accommodation and food services

*Preliminary data subject to revision in subsequent years as further claims are finalised.

Outlook for 2020–21

Over the next 12 months we are looking forward to leading a range of projects to build a stronger evidence base on preventing work-related injuries, disease and fatalities.

These include:

  • continuing to develop a high-quality suite of data and reports
  • an increased focus on ensuring our data assets and analysis reflect the current and future Australian workforce
  • developing new data communication products
  • developing the National Return to Work Employer Survey
  • updating our Cost of Work-related Injuries, Disease and Fatalities in Australia report, to better understand the economic drivers around WHS and workers’ compensation
  • leading a range of research priorities, including new research on occupational diseases.