Even as building activity picked up, the number of workers losing their lives on construction sites throughout Australia plummeted by almost half last year and came in at its lowest level in 11 years of record, new statistics say.

Releasing its Work-Related Traumatic Fatalities, Australia 2014 report last week, Safe Work Australia says the number of fatalities recorded on building sites dropped from 30 in 2012 to just 19 in 2013 – the lowest level on record since the agency’s records began in 2003 and just under half the previous decade average of 38.3 in the 10 years leading up to 2012.

The sector also accounted for only 10 per cent of all workplace fatalities during the year, compared with its 11-year average of 14 per cent. Given that the industry employs roughly nine per cent of the national workforce, this means its fatality rate in proportion to its total number of workers employed was not far above overall averages across all industries.

The positive results for construction came as nation-wide, the number of fatalities across the broader workforce dropped 16 per cent from 228 to the lowest level on record of 191 – a fall Safe Work Australia attributes primarily to a decrease in vehicle accidents on public roads (particularly involving workers in cars), which in historical terms typically account for around one-third of all workplace deaths.

Safe Work Australia acting chief executive officer Michelle Baxter welcomed the overall decline, but added that the fatality rate amongst self-employed individuals was three times that of regular workers. This could partially being explained by the relatively high proportion of self-employed workers in industries like agriculture and transport.

Baxter said the number of fatalities among self-employed workers was concerning and urged all workers, self-employed or otherwise, to make safety a priority.

“While we have seen a 16 per cent reduction in work-related deaths since 2012 (228), this does not mean workers should become complacent about reducing and eliminating risks while working,” she said. “Even if a worker is conducting a business in their own right, they should not ignore their own health and safety.”

Overall, vehicle collisions (40 per cent) represent by far the greatest cause of worker deaths (11-year averages) followed by being struck by moving objects (12 per cent) and falls from height (11 per cent). In construction specifically, falls from height (28 per cent) lead followed by vehicle collision (16 per cent) and contact with electricity (15 per cent).

In terms of occupations, machinery operators & drivers (910) account for the highest number of fatalities over the past 11 years, followed by labourers (561) and technicians and trade workers (453).

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