A major survey of Australian workers has found almost 80 per cent have suffered physical or mental injuries as a result of their work, and that psychological injuries continue to be overlooked.
In fact, more than 60 per cent of respondents to the survey had experienced poor mental health because of unaddressed psychological hazards in their workplace.
The ACTU surveyed more than 26,000 working people on their experiences of workplace health and safety in the past 12 months.
Areas surveyed included exposure to traumatic events – like the death of a colleague, occupational violence, hazardous conditions, poor management, and remote or isolated work.
The survey found that psychological workplace hazards are under-regulated and consequently under-recognised but just as dangerous as physical ones.
It also revealed that while employers may be listening to worker’s safety concerns, they may not be acting on them.
ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said most workers were “aware of serious threats to their physical and mental health which are being tolerated or ignored by their employers.”
“Workers’ responses demonstrate a widespread belief that employers will politely listen to complaints about unsafe work conditions. However workers do not believe that employers either know what to do or are willing to take action on serious threats to their safety,” the report reads.
More than half of survey respondents were aware of an existing, unresolved issue in their workplace which could result in serious injury or illness to a coworker or themselves.
“These findings suggest a level of box-ticking by employers. Willing to meet the most basic requirements by taking meetings with staff and appearing open to complaints, but not willing to make the changes in workplaces which will actually prevent further injuries or deaths.”
On mental health, the ACTU say the manner in which work is structured and organised presents persistent psychological and physical hazards.
“Occupational violence, workplace stress, hostile work environments, exposure to trauma and other ongoing issues in many workplaces can – and in the experience of the workers who responded to our survey, do – lead to physical injuries and mental health issues.”
- 78% of respondents had been physically or psychologically injured or ill as a result of their work;
- 78% of respondents knew someone who had been seriously injured or ill as a result of their work;
- 16% of respondents knew someone who was killed at work, or died from a work-related disease;
- In the last 12 months 47% of respondents were exposed to traumatic events, distressing situations or distressed or aggressive clients/customers;
- 66% of respondents experienced high workloads;
- 31% of respondents had experienced occupational violence (abuse, threats, or assault at work by clients, customers, the public, or co-workers).
- 61% said they has experienced poor mental health because their employer or workplace had failed to manage of address these poor work conditions;
- 91% of people did not make a workers’ compensation claims in relation to this poor mental health;
- Of the 9% that did, only a third of them were approved;
- 55% said they were aware of existing conditions in their workplace that could cause serious injury or illness if not addressed.
- 80% said the penalties were not significant enough to make employers or companies take safety seriously;
- 91% said employers or companies who cause the death of a worker through gross negligence should face serious jail time (up to 20 years);
- 98% of respondents said they believed unions had a role in work health and safety;
- 91% said unions should be able to immediately enter workplaces to address health and safety issues;
- 97% said unions should be able to take employers and companies that break health and safety laws to court;
In 2018, the Government commissioned a report into model work health and safety legislation resulting in the Boland review, which made 34 recommendations to strengthen work health and safety laws (see related article).
The ACTU wants all recommendations to be implemented across all states and territories.
“We call for urgent action to prevent workplace deaths and injuries and illness as a result of work. All 34 recommendations of the Government’s own sweeping review – the Boland Review – must be implemented.”