Research

Surge of workplace injuries likely to follow COVID

A study of workers' comp data has predicted that as Australia moves out of a recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic there will be a surge of workplace injuries, highlighting the importance of resilient safety strategies.

Tanya Jenke, general manager of EHSQ software provider Cority Australia, told the National Health and Safety Conference last week that her research shows employers need to ensure their injury prevention initiatives are effective in fluctuating economic conditions, like those of the global financial crisis in 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jenke is a PhD student at Edith Cowan University, whose study was recently published by Safety Science.

Using WorkCover WA injury data covering the 16 years to 2019, she found that every one per cent increase in gross domestic product for the State increased the occupational injury rate by 0.1 per cent per 100 employees. A one per cent increase in the unemployment rate, on the other hand, was associated with a 0.3 per cent decrease in occupational injuries, she found. "These numbers seem quite low but it's important to note that they're based on 100 employees," Jenke said. "The overall trend of the [Western Australian] data suggests that occupational injuries occur more during economic growth periods."

Jenke said the findings are significant, given the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp decline in Australia's growth rate last year, but the economy is slowly moving out of recession. The occupational injury rate will increase significantly post-COVID if not properly addressed. During periods of economic growth there is an uptick in contract work and an increase of younger and inexperienced workers, who are more susceptible to safety risks.

"More contractors also means that there is continual movements of people within the workforce… and therefore safety knowledge and knowledge of hazards is continually moving as people move into new and different roles across companies," she added. 

During recessions, workers tend to underreport injuries for fear of losing their jobs, to the detriment of organisational safety cultures, she noted.

Organisations that are reliant on administrative controls, personal protective equipment and supervisors to control risks "may find themselves in a difficult situation and a riskier environment for their employees", Jenke said. 
Read more: Tanya Jenke, et al, An investigation of the influence of economic cycles on safety performance in Western Australia, [Abstract] Safety Science, Volume 138, June 2021, 105230 Source: OHS Alert

 

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