Injured workers responsible for 74% of over $60b cost of workplace illness, injury

Source: Safe to Work
By: Angela Welsh

Injured workers were responsible for 74% of the $60.6 billion that workplace injury and illness cost Australians in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, a study has found.

The report, by Safe Work Australia, examined workplace injury data from across the country, and revealed a large discrepancy in the cost of different types of injuries.

The financial burden borne by employees, employers and communities depended on the consequences of the injury or disease, the report said.

"While employers and the community bear most of the cost of short-term injuries and diseases, the burden shifts to workers as the level of severity increases," the report stated. "The majority of cost is borne by individuals and society (95%)."

Communities and employers were responsible for most of the cost from incidents involving employee absence, both short-term and long-term. However, injuries and diseases that resulted in partial incapacitation cost the employee about ten times more than it cost their community or their employer. Workers were responsible for a much smaller share of the burden in cases of full incapacitation.

"The majority of economic costs associated with full incapacity are borne by the community, through social welfare and other support schemes, and loss of potential (human capital)," the report found.

There was also a distinct difference in the cost of work-related diseases compared to physical injuries. Work-related diseases cost the employee an average of $143,500, which was nearly triple the $46,100 average financial loss resulting from injuries, according to the Safe Work Australia study.

The report cited "mental stress" and "biological factors" as the most expensive sources of job-related health complaints among Australian workers. While mental stress accounted for only 4% of the total number of cases, it was linked to 9% of the total cost of all work-related conditions. Sound and pressure, exposure to chemicals and physical stress were also among the most costly health hazards.

"Over one third of the total number of cases and total economic cost are associated with body stressing or manual handling cases," the report said. "Mechanisms which are more associated with disease cases, such as sound and pressure, biological factors and mental stress have a higher unit cost than those largely associated with injuries (such as falls and trips and body stressing)," the report found.