Workplace injuries can and do occur even with the best risk management and prevention systems in place. As employees and employers, we can only do so much to prevent mishaps from happening, so it is vital to be aware of and manage workplace risks and potential personal, legal, and financial consequences.
Despite great strides in Occupational Safety and Health over the past century, on a global scale, we are still seeing an average of 317 million workplace injuries per year, with over 500,000 workers in Australia injured each year. And, despite 18% of severe work-related injury and disease claims in 2020 being made within the healthcare sector, workplace injuries don’t discriminate. Injury claims were also prevalent across the construction, manufacturing, transport, postal, warehousing, retail, education, and training industries, with 92% occurring in the place of work.
When an employee is injured, it not only impacts the worker and co-workers but can also negatively impact staff morale. It can significantly strain a business operationally and financially, including a potential WHS investigation, legal action, and fines. Simply put, if your employee is injured, the consequences to your business go beyond this singular person. It can have far-reaching impacts and cause temporary closure of your business in the worst-case scenario. In addition, workplace injuries put your business at risk of investigations and lawsuits, which can impact your reputation and be extremely costly for your business.
Despite the business consequences resulting from a workplace injury, your employees' health and safety is your priority, as well as a legal responsibility for the owners and senior managers. To help your business mitigate and respond to workplace injuries, we have briefly broken down the ins and outs of what it takes to stay risk-aware. We can also put you in touch with WHS professionals who can provide specific advice and assistance for your business, including COVID.
What are Workplace Injuries?
While the term ‘workplace injury’ seems relatively self-explanatory, we have broken down the major types.
Simply, for an injury to be considered work-related, the work must have been a direct cause and also a significant contributing factor to the injury, regardless of the injury severity. While injuries vary across industries, the main types of injuries fall under four central ‘workplace injury’ categories, being:
Physical injuries can be defined as any bodily injury caused by an external source, whether minor or more serious.
Cuts, burns, abrasions, penetrating wounds, broken bones and fractures are considered physical injuries. This type of injury is the most common reported within workplaces and the predominant reason behind workplace compensation claims and related time off work.
Psychological and psychiatric injuries
These injuries are not as easily seen, but they can be as serious or even more so than any physical injuries. Examples of these types of injuries include abnormal thoughts, feelings and behaviours that can lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Safe Work Australian report indicated that a total of 8% of serious workplace injury claims were made in response to mental stress.
Diseases are any abnormal medical conditions that affect any or all parts of your body due to an infection, inflammation, environmental factor or any other cause.
Common diseases within the workplace include but aren’t limited to industrial deafness, glandular fever, and work-related respiratory diseases.
Ongoing symptoms or aggravated injury
In some scenarios, employees may have a pre-existing injury or return to work on approved duties while rehabilitating from the original injury. If the person suffers a further injury to an existing injury, it is still a workplace injury. Therefore, it’s essential to have a professional return to work plan in place and monitored.
An aggravated injury is when a pre-existing injury becomes irritated due to work duties or conditions. Examples include a truck driver with an existing back injury hitting a pot-hole and aggravating the back injury or a person with stress, which is worsened by workplace harassment or bullying.
Risks of Workplace Injury
As mentioned, a workplace injury is where the workplace duties or conditions were a direct and key contributing factor. Meaning they can happen while at work, travelling to or from work or at a customers or clients premises/worksite as a direct result of doing your job.
While every job contains some level of risk for injury, the magnitude greatly varies across jobs, industries, and regions.
However, some risks remain relatively universal across workplaces, including:
- Psychosocial hazards: Bullying, fatigue, mental stress, overseas work, remote or isolated work, workplace change, workplace violence, and customer aggression.
- Physical hazards: Body stressing, confined spaces, electricity, heat, heights, and noise.
- Chemical hazards: Skin irritants, carcinogens, respiratory sensitisers, chemical explosions and fire, corrosion, and chemical reactions.
- Biological hazards: Viruses, toxins from biological sources, spores, fungi, pathogenic microorganisms, and bio-active substances.
Mitigating risks means prevention, controlling and reducing the risks by undertaking and monitoring a risk management plan. Here are examples of some procedures and practices that can be implemented in your day-to-day business operations to reduce the risk of injury:
- Promoting health and safety in the layout and design of the workplace;
- Conducting work health and safety audits;
- Collecting and analysing incident and safety data;
- Providing or attending work health and safety training and education;
- Having in place and utilising mandatory internal hazard reporting;
- Formulating, following and monitoring hazard reduction policies and procedures;
- Formal Incident investigation policy and procedures in response to injury or near misses;
- Following internal and WorkCover formal incident notification requirements;
- Planning and being prepared for emergencies; and
- Enforcing first aid policies and procedures.
A specialist WHS manager can help you put together plans and prevention measures, specifically for your business and industry.
As mentioned, accidents can happen, and injuries occur. However, this doesn’t mean that employers don’t have a level of responsibility when an employee is injured. Most states and territories now hold managers personally liable, in addition to the company. Penalties can be hefty and include jail time in gross negligence causing injury or death. Information on your state and territory WHS system can be found here.
While appropriate preventative measures can be put into place, if an injury does occur, employers should:
- Make contact with the injured employee as soon as possible after the incident.
- If required, notify Safe Work Australia or your state work cover agency that the injury has happened. Additionally, if your business is self-insured, you must inform them.
- When appropriate, start planning your workers' return to work with their cooperation, considering any workplace risks you need to mitigate before returning.
- Review your risk management and make changes or improvements, if needed.
Depending on the size of your business, there may be many people responsible for preventing and managing risks. According to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, those typically responsible among all types of work and workplaces include:
- Principal or head contractors;
- Workplace manager;
- Management, including line or area managers; Manufacturers; and
- Importers and suppliers of substances or structures that are used at work.
While employee health safety should always be at the forefront of business thinking and planning, you also need to protect yourself. If or when an incident or accident does occur, even with appropriate risk prevention measures and safety precautions in place, insurance can be invaluable.
The average compensation paid per claim throughout 2020 as reported by Safe Work Australia was $13 500. Understandably this is a considerable expense. On top of this can be WorkCover enquiry or legal costs, fines and penalties, in addition to management time taken up in dealing with the incident or accident. These can be substantial financial costs, in addition to reputational damage, which can cause a significant amount of damage to your business.
If workplace injuries occur, investing in insurance is a way to protect your business financially. While risk awareness is important, preparing for consequences is also vital. For more information regarding the right insurance for your business, contact Insurance Advisernet today and find your local adviser. Our team of professionals specialises across a broad range of insurance types to help find the best cover for you.
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We strongly recommend that you consider the suitability of this information, in respect of your own personal objectives, financial situation and needs before acting on it. This document is also not a Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) or a policy wording, nor is it a summary of a particular product’s features or terms of any insurance product. If you are interested in discussing this information or acquiring an insurance product, you should contact your insurance adviser to obtain and carefully consider any relevant PDS or policy wording before deciding whether to purchase any insurance product.