Workplace injuries and illnesses can have a serious impact on your health and financial stability. So it’s important to keep workplace injuries to a minimum.
In 2023, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its 2021–22 statistics on work-related injuries in Australia. These figures show that, while things are improving, workplace injury is still a big problem in Australia.
During this period, 497,300 Australian workers suffered from a work-related injury or illness. That’s around 3.5% of workers. This figure is down from 4.2% in 2017–18 and 6.4% in 2005–06 – but it’s still a lot.
Let’s look at the common causes of workplace injuries, and how a workers compensation claim can help injured employees meet their financial needs while they recover.
Common types of workplace injuries
Interestingly, the most common causes of workplace injuries and illnesses in Australia are the same as they were 5 years ago:
- sprains, strains or dislocations
- chronic joint or muscle conditions
- cuts or open wounds
- stress or other mental condition
- crushing injury/internal organ damage
The top two injury types in this list make up almost 50% of all injuries in Australian workplaces. So why are these injuries occurring?
Causes of workplace injuries
The most common causes of work-related injuries are:
- lifting, pushing, pulling or bending
- a fall on the same level (including slip or fall)
- hitting or being hit or cut by an object or vehicle
- repetitive movement with low muscle loading
- exposure to mental stress
- fall from a height
- prolonged standing, working in cramped or unchanging positions
- contact with a chemical substance
- vehicle accident.
Poor manual handling technique is one of the biggest causes of sprain, joint and muscle injury in Australian workplaces. This can be due to heavy lifting, unnatural or awkward positioning, or repetitive or sustained movement, or just too much time moving heavy objects without a break.
If these injuries are occurring in your workplace, it could be due to a lack of training, supervision or procedures on identifying potential hazards and using proper manual handling techniques. This is putting your health at risk.
Where workplace injuries occur
These occupations have the highest rates of injury in Australia:
- community and personal service workers
- machinery operators and drivers
- technicians and trades workers.
It’s no surprise that these are very physical occupations. If you’re a worker in these industries, your employer should have a significant and continuous focus on safety.
Most work-related injuries in 2021–22 occurred in the workplace, but 6% occurred while workers were travelling for work, travelling to or from work, or on a break. Workers compensation covers these locations as well, so don’t assume you’re not eligible if you’re injured in these situations.
Only 1% of injuries occurred while working from home.
Injury-related absences from work
In 2021–22, out of the 497,300 people who suffered from a work-related injury or illness, two-thirds (66%) took time off work.
- part of a day or shift – 10%
- 1 to 4 days – 36%
- 5 to 10 days – 17%
- more than 10 days – 34%
- didn’t return during this time period – 4%.
With more than 111,000 workers taking more than 10 days off to recover from workplace injury or illness, this is a lot of lost productivity.
Some injuries and illnesses require more recovery time than others. These required the highest number of days off in 2021–22:
- stress or other mental health conditions – 44 days
- fractures or broken bones – 29 days
- chronic joint or muscle conditions – 22 days.
As you can see, psychological injury can take more recovery time than physical injury. This shows the importance of getting prompt support for mental health issues in the workplace.
In total, Australians lost 1.9 million weeks of work from work-related injury in one year. So its essential to minimise the risks to reduce this lost work – especially for casual workers who don’t have benefits like annual leave and sick leave to fall back on.
How to minimise the risk of workplace injuries
While the 55–59 and 20–24 age groups are most likely to suffer a work-related injury or illness, all age groups were represented in the 2021–22 stats. Workers of all ages need to take care to minimise injuries in the workplace.
Both employees and employers have a role to play in reducing workplace incidents that can lead to time off and workers compensation claims. But here are some important ways that your employer should protect you:
You need effective training in how to do your job safely and protect yourself from harm. Whether it’s safe manual handling techniques, good posture at a computer or correct use of tools, your employer must provide full training when you start. This includes showing you how to identify, report and eliminate hazards.
But after your training, you also need supervision from a suitably qualified person who can check that you’re doing the job correctly. They can pick up on anything that’s not right to keep you safe. When you don’t have this training and supervision, accidents can happen.
Tools and machinery
Your employer must provide the right tools and machinery for you to do your job safely, including effective PPE (personal protective equipment).
Your employer must allow you to take adequate breaks – and you should take them. This is a good time to take a walk and stretch the muscles. If you spend a lot of time looking at a screen, it’s important to give your eyes a rest.
Working on the same task for a long time can cause repetitive strain injury. Your employer should give you a variety of tasks so you’re not using the same muscle groups all the time and risking injury.
This is especially important for the risk of mental harm in the workplace. Your employer should have a plan for responding early if signs of mental harm occur, such as unexplained absences or declining work performance.
If an incident occurs in the workplace, you should report it. Your employer must have a process for reporting accidents, as well as risks and hazards. Then they can fix the issue and prevent future injury.
Of course, reporting is pointless if nothing changes. For example, if a worker slips and falls in a wet area and the issue isn’t fixed, it won’t be long before another worker does the same. Employers must regularly review reported incidents, risks and hazards, and make changes.
To minimise the risk of work-related injury, your employer could engage an external company to audit the workplace, highlight risks and implement systems to reduce those risks.
Making a workers compensation claim
Workers compensation – or WorkCover – provides workers with income and medical expenses if they’re injured or become ill at work. Every business that employs workers must have workers’ compensation.
Workers compensation can be vital for injured workers, but many don’t make a claim for it. In 2021–22, only one–third of workers who suffered a workplace injury or illness made a worker’s compensation claim. Around 65% of injured workers didn’t apply.
Almost 40% of these workers said they thought it was a minor injury so it wasn’t necessary. Here are some other reasons:
- They didn’t think they’d be eligible.
- They thought it would negatively affect their current or future employment.
- It was inconvenient/too much paperwork.
- They weren’t aware of workers compensation.
But these aren’t necessarily valid reasons for not making a worker’s compensation claim.
- Eligibility – You should never assume you aren’t eligible for a WorkCover claim. Even a minor injury might be worse than it looks and other symptoms can take time to appear. See a doctor and get a proper diagnosis first.
- Negative effect on employment – Under workers compensation law, your employer can’t use your work-related injury or illness as a reason to terminate you within the first 6 months for NSW and 12 months in Queensland. Also, future employers can’t discriminate against you because of your claim. If you’re physically and mentally able to do the job, they can’t refuse to hire you based on a pre-existing injury.
Inconvenient/too much paperwork – This is where you benefit from engaging a worker’s compensation lawyer to help with your claim. They will take on the burden of the paperwork and other tasks for you, so you can just focus on your health.
How can Main Lawyers help?
Every employer has a duty of care to create a healthy environment for workers. Work health and safety laws require employers to manage the risk of hazards, whether physical or psychological. If they fail in their duty, you may be left struggling financially while you recover from an illness or injury.
At Main Lawyers, we work on your behalf to get every cent you’re entitled to. With our no-win, no-fee arrangement, you won’t pay for professional fees until you receive your settlement. So that’s one less thing to worry about when dealing with the most common causes of workplace injuries in Australia.
We can also assist if you need to make a common law claim – if you believe your employer’s negligence caused your injury. This could provide compensation (i.e. damages) for lost current and future income, and pain and suffering.
And if you have a serious impairment, such as total and permanent disability, you might be eligible for a lump sum payment.
Just because your injury isn’t mentioned as one of our most common causes of workplace injuries, Don’t assume you’re not entitled to workers compensation – get all the facts. Contact Main Lawyers today for a free, no-obligation discussion about your situation.