The number of work-related injuries in Victoria has fallen to an all-time-low. With around half of all serious injuries being manual handling-related, these type of injuries are also at a record low.
According to the annual figures released by WorkSafe Victoria the claims rate has fallen to a new historic low of 6.95 for the 2015-16 financial year. This means the number of injuries resulting in major worker’s compensation claims for that period was 6.95 per million hours worked (cpmhw) across the state. This was a 5.2 per cent improvement over the previous financial year. It is also well below the regulator’s target for the period which was a rate of 7.12 cpmhw.
The claims rate measures how “safe” it is to work in Victoria as well as how WorkSafe Victoria (the trading name of the Victorian WorkCover Authority) is doing as the manager of the state government’s workplace safety and workers compensation system. WorkSafe is aiming for a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in claims rate over a five-year span that is now entering its final year. Since the strategy began in 2011-12 the claims rate has edged down progressively from 8.23 cpmhw which means WorkSafe is likely to meet its target next year.
This claims measure began in Victoria in 2006-07 to take account of the growth in the economy and give a more accurate picture than just claims number alone. In that first year the claims rate was 9 cpmhw. The new measure supported and coincided with the implementation of the second generation Victorian OHS Act in 2004 and the introduction of Victoria’s first consolidated OHS regulations in 2007.
More good news this year is that the total number of claims is also down in Victoria. In 2015-16 26,286 workers were seriously injured compared with 26,757 in the previous period. This is the lowest number since the current scheme began in Victoria. In the first full year of the Victorian scheme in 1986-87 there were 64,564 injury claims. That represented about 32,000 manual handling injuries 30 years ago in the state, compared with around 13,000 today.
But the flipside of these lower numbers is a reality check for the Victorian regulator. It knows more has to be done. In the most recent time-frame since major regulatory change in the state (2007 to date), there have been more than 94,000 serious manual handling-related injuries in Victorian workplaces. There is a wide range of materials handling equipment available that will assist employers keep their workers safe. This includes trolleys, powered pallet trucks and hydraulic scissor lift tables.
The significance of these manual handling claims is not just their sheer number compared with other causes of injuries but that “body stress” type injuries tend to be costlier to treat and take longer to treat. That is a massive burden on the worker’s compensation system. It also keeps employer worker’s compensation policy premiums high which is a burden on business costs.
Over the last financial year there were more than 90,000 workplace injuries being managed in the compensation system. This cost WorkSafe more than $1.8 billion in benefits, medical bills and rehabilitation. The manual handling injury contribution to the annual payment is approximately $1 billion and with no sign of that figure reducing by a large amount in coming years unless there is much more investment in workplaces in ways to prevent these injuries happening.