According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) more vigilance is needed in the workplace if the high number of injuries and fatalities on worksites each year are to be combated.
ACTU has said that with over half a million workers being injured annually in Oz and thousands dying in the workplace, we need to strengthen workplace safety regulations, not weaken them.
According to ACTU President Ged Kearney, each year 600,000 workers are injured at work and 127,000 of those injuries are serious, costing the country more than $60 billion annually, obviously something needs to be done.
Kearney blamed the government for trying to “further diminish the ability of workers to speak up for themselves in their workplaces” at a time when workplace safety is such a prevalent issue.
Kearney was quoted on ACTU’s website as saying:
“Thousands of workers are injured or killed from preventable factors and that tells us we need to be much more vigilant, not less which is the direction we are heading. There are not enough inspectors and they are unable to visit anywhere near the number of workplaces required. Fines and prosecutions are extremely low compared with the number of injuries and deaths.”
New figures from Safe Work Australia reveal that in 2011-12 only 417 employers were prosecuted for breaching OHS laws resulting in just $22 million in fines.
“People are going home injured and some aren’t going home at all,” Ms Kearney said.
Kearney has cited 2 main employer contributions that are causing workplace injuries,
- Employers that do not understand how to make their workplace safer
- Employers who just don’t care about workplace safety
According to Kearney employers that lack the knowledge about how to make the worksite safe need more guidance whereas those that just don’t care should be facing more serious fines and prosecution.
ACTU has condemned the fact that while employer fines run into only $22 million, the cost of injury claims in Australia is in the billions.
She went on to state:
“We have workers climbing unsafe scaffolding, being exposed to asbestos, falling victim to bullying and being put into unduly stressful situations on a daily basis.”
Ms Kearney said the growth of casual and insecure work was another area of concern.
“People in insecure work are too frightened to speak up about safety in case they lose their job,” she said. “Time and time again studies demonstrate that the safest workplaces by far are union organised and where people are relatively secure in their position.”
An issue that is really concerning to ACTU is the Queensland Government’s recent discussions about limiting right of entry laws, which the unions say is another way of suppressing the voice of workers, exactly the opposite of what Kearney says needs to be done to improve safety. The government however believes this will stop members of the unions from intimidating other workers on work sites.
Kearney goes on to stress that in order to save lives and stop injuries, cooperation is needed from government, employers and unions.