International Women’s Day: Reflecting on women’s health and safety in the workplace

Australia is ranked in the top 10 OECD countries for worker health and safety, with considerable improvements in the health and safety of both female and male employees in recent years.

Data from Safe Work Australia shows that in the 13 years to 2012–13, the rate of serious workers’ compensation claims fell by 21 percent among female employees and 35 percent for male employees. Meanwhile, there was a similar drop in the rate of fatal injuries in the 12 years to 2014 with a reduction in deaths by 30 percent among female workers and 40 percent among male workers.

Safe Work Australia’s Director of Data and Analysis Thomas Mettenmeyer says that the statistics show a positive overall downward trend.

He also noted that while women are less likely than men to experience a fatal injury at work, a key determinant for work-related disease and injury is occupation rather than gender.

“Women are overall less likely to suffer a fatal injury in the workplace, and less likely to experience a serious injury,” Mr Mettenmeyer says. “This is mainly due to the low percentage of female workers in occupations that have high rates of serious or fatal injury, such as labourers or road and rail drivers.”

“There are significant differences in the occupation types of female and male employees and these differences have the biggest impact on the types of injuries and diseases experienced,” Mr Mettenmeyer says.

“Data shows the incidence of injury within an occupation group are very similar for men and women.”
However, it is worth noting the workers’ compensation claim rate for mental disorders is 2.3 times higher among female employees.

“This is largely because women are more likely to be employed in occupations that show above average mental disorder claim rates, such as carers and aides or education professionals,” said Mr Mettenmeyer.

Although the overall percentage of mental disorder claims is relatively low at six percent of total workers’ compensation claims, these claims are associated with a relatively longer average time off from work, involving higher compensation payments.

“The statistics indicate there is a need for occupation-specific support measures” said Mr Mettenmeyer.

“The types of occupations of workers receiving compensation for a work-related mental disorder tend to be those who work in occupations which involve high levels of interaction with other people, often rendering a service to the public and often doing their job in difficult and challenging circumstances.”

Occupations with above average claim rates for mental disorders include school teachers, health and welfare support workers, personal carers and assistants, nursing professionals, defence force members, firefighters and police.

Employers of workers in roles that require significant interaction with people should consider incorporating employee support programs and good design principles.  

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Safe Work Australia collects data on work health and safety statistics and develops industry-specific reports which provide a breakdown on the rates of injury, fatality and workers’ compensation claims in Australia.  To view these reports visit the Statistics page on the Safe Work Australia website.

(Image source: Work-related mental disorders profile 2015)

For a full profile on mental disorder claims in Australia, refer to Safe Work Australia’s Work-related mental disorders profile 2015.


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