The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy (2012–2022) vision is for safe, healthy and productive workers. It targets reducing work-related injuries, disease and fatalities for Australian workers.
As part of the first action area – “Healthy and safe by design”, Safework Australia has conducted a detailed study of 523 work-related fatalities from 2006-2011 and produced a detailed report of their findings.
Scope of the study
Of the 523 fatalities where enough information was available to determine the cause of death, they are broken into these categories:
With 188 fatalities within the scope of the study where design was determined as the main or contributing factor, the most common circumstances were:
Safe design is a very broad topic. However, the study focussed only on fatal incidents that involved specific categories of tools, plant and machinery, workplace design, the workplace environment, how space is used and the way tasks are undertaken. The report focuses mostly on the industrial design-related characteristics and found that in most cases, the fatality may have been avoided if the workplace adhered to better work systems.
Safe procedures work if people adhere to them. Passive methods for protecting workers, those that require no input from the worker, are likely to work best. This means the best way of dealing with hazards is to remove them. This can often be done by implementing design changes to tools, machinery or plants.
Summary of report findings – most affected industries
The industries most affected by safety and design issues that were definitely proven or considered possible were:
Summary of report findings – most common categories
There are five common categories and a smaller number of other causes across a broader range of categories.
The most common category, resulting in 40 fatal incidents, was due to inadequate guarding. The types of equipment and machinery were varied. However, any hazardous machinery capable of trapping or entangling a worker should minimise that risk by having some form of guarding.
Elevating work platforms contributed to 7 fatalities and were due to workers being trapped or crushed. There are currently two main types of ‘anti-entrapment’ devices available. By fitting a frame to the basket, a safe zone is provided within the platform. Sensor bars or pads can stop the elevating work platform if the operator is pushed onto them.
Tractors, forklifts, hay balers and crushing, pressing and rolling equipment were cited in the deaths of workers.
Some findings of where adequate guarding may have prevented fatalities include:
Lack of roll-over protective structure (ROPS) and seatbelts was found to be the cause of 28 fatal incidents. These involved quad bikes and tractors and almost all occurred on farms.
Of the 13 incidents involving quad bikes, most of the workers were pinned under the quad bike. ROPS may have prevented deaths. Using quad bikes on sloping ground, particularly with attachments such as spray tanks, was shown to be hazardous. In 5 of these incidents, the worker was not wearing a helmet.
Of the 11 incidents involving tractors, the tractors were not fitted with ROPS or seat belts.
A residual current device (RCD) can prevent electrocution by shutting off a device in milliseconds if it detects leakage to earth.
Although installation of RCDs is mandatory in many situations, 22 fatalities in this category may have been avoided if RCDs had been installed in the in the power circuits to which workers came into contact.
Interlock mechanisms are designed to prevent the risk of accidentally turning on machinery or plant. Hazardous machinery and plant should have interlock mechanism fitted, whether sophisticated fail-safe systems or simply by locking the power source or controls with a key.
Most of the 15 work-related fatalities in this category were due to driver obstructed vision while reversing on worksites resulting in people being struck. As well as using reversing warning alarms, reversing cameras and proximity detectors can be fitted. In one instance, a truck’s reversing camera was not working. Other safety design measures may include using spotters, as reversing cameras are not fail-safe and are only effective if the driver uses them properly, as well as clear traffic management plans.
Fatalities occurred in several other categories: