Developing guidelines around occupational injury and disease

Ensuring the health and safety of people at work is an important national priority. In Australia, the estimated economic cost of the 611,300 people who sustained a work-related injury or illness in the 2008/9 financial year alone exceeded $60.6 billion. Yet this represents only part of the human, social and economic consequences of failure to prevent work-related injury and illness.

Effective communication around the success of work health and safety (WHS) efforts and the consequences of work health and safety system failure is hampered by the reporting approaches and metrics currently used at organisational, industry and national levels.

Importantly, the focus on highly aggregated indicators of injury obscures critical information about WHS outcomes. Further, research has shown the quality of corporate WHS reporting to be relatively poor in terms of the relevance, reliability and comparability of WHS information provided to corporate decision-makers and other stakeholders.

In this project, Dr Sharron O’Neill worked with industry partners (the Safety Institute of Australia [SIA], Institute of Chartered Accountants and Safe Work Australia) to develop a framework for understanding WHS performance and to draft guidance material to help organisations improve the quality of WHS evaluation and reporting.

The findings highlighted important limitations to existing practices and offered practical suggestions and solutions which have attracted substantial interest from industry, both nationally and internationally.

Building on the research findings, Dr O’Neill is currently leading a separate project, sponsored by Safe Work Australia, with team members Karen Wolfe (SIA), Professor Nonna Martinov-Bennie and Dr Karina Luzia, to seek public feedback on the draft guide through a national series of industry based workshops and webinars. It is anticipated the final research results will be publicly available February 2015.

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