The safety performance of Australia’s workplaces generally and construction work sites specifically has deteriorated, the latest data shows.

Released last week, The Key Work Health and Safety Statistics report compiled by Safe Work Australia shows that the number of fatalities which occurred on Australian work sites increased from 144 or 1.1 per 100,000 workers in calendar 2018 to 183 or 1.4 per 100,000 workers in calendar 2019.

Meanwhile, the number of injuries for which serious claims for workers compensation were lodged rose from 107,335 or 9.1 per 1,000 employees in 2017/18 to 114,435 or 9.4 per 1,000 employees in 2018/19.

In construction specifically, the number of fatalities edged up from 24 or 2.0 per 100,000 workers in calendar 2018 to 26 or 2.2 per 100,000 workers in 2019. Serious injury claims rose from 13,855 or 15.0 per 1,000 workers in 2017/18 to 14,280 or 15.2 claims per 1,000 employees in 2018/19.

Moreover, whilst overall workplace fatalities appear to have declined so far in 2020 (from 144 YTD as of 8 October 2019 to 121 YTD as of 8 Oct 2020), those in construction have increased from 18 in the year to 8 October 2019 to 22 in the same period in 2020.

This is despite lower levels of activity on account of COVID.

The latest data bucks a longer-term trend toward better safety outcomes.

Between 2007 and 2018, the overall rate of workplace fatalities dropped from 2.5 per 100,000 employees to 1.2 per 100,000 employees.

Over the seventeen years between 2000/01 and 2017/18, meanwhile, the rate of injuries for which serious claims were lodged fell from more than 16 per 1,000 employees to 9.1 per 1,000 workers.

In construction specifically, serious injury claims fell from 18.7 per 1,000 workers in 2011/12 to 15.0 per 1,000 workers in 2017/18 whilst the 26 fatalities which occurred in 2019 were below the five-year average of 31 from 2014 to 2018.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said the latest data is a wake-up call to show that ongoing improvement in safety outcomes cannot be taken for granted.

In particular, O’Brien has called for action to implement the 34 recommendations made in the final report of the Review of the model Work Health and Safety Laws by former SafeWork SA Executive Director Marie Boland in 2018. These include the introduction of new regulations to require employers to protect the psychological health of workers as well as their physical health along with a stronger regime for compliance, enforcement and penalties.

“The 2019 fatality rate needs to be a wake-up call to everybody that work health and safety is a continuous improvement,” O’Brien said.

“It (improvement of safety outcomes) requires a whole range of factors going in the right direction. Most importantly, that comes down to making sure that our laws are appropriate.

“That report (Boland Report) outlines 34 recommendations for fixing work health and safety laws. It’s important that the government get on with the job of bringing those recommendations to life.”

The latest data follows the death of 23-year-old apprentice Jonnie Hartshorn at a Curtain University site last week after a roof on which he was working collapsed.