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Recording of traumatic work related fatalities by WorkSafe

Information paper

Contents

  1. Introduction and background
  2. Scope
  3. Principles
  4. Meaning of work
  5. Inclusions
  6. Relationship between WorkSafe's recording system and that used for the report on Work-related traumatic fatalities in Australia, 1989 to 1992
  7. Relationship between WorkSafe's recording system and fatalities data derived from the workers' compensation claims system
  8. Future enhancements

1. Introduction and background

WorkSafe Western Australia records and publishes data on traumatic work-related fatalities in Western Australia. In doing so, judgments must be made regarding whether any particular reported fatality is appropriate for inclusion in the recording system, therefore it is necessary to have a clear, consistent, transparent process for making these judgments.

The question of "work-relatedness" is not necessarily clear cut. For example, should the death of a child by drowning in a farm dam, or passengers killed in an aircraft crash, be recorded by WorkSafe Western Australia? The answer will depend on whether "bystanders" are included in the data system, and if so, the additional factors that are taken into account in determining whether a fatality is work-related.

This paper describes the categories of traumatic work-related fatalities recorded by WorkSafe Western Australia, and explains the process by which decisions are made on the inclusions and exclusions under each category.

It is recognized that there are areas where statistics are not currently collected but, if they were to be included in future, would contribute to a fuller picture of occupational safety and health in Western Australia. These areas are discussed in this paper as identified likely future enhancements of the data collection system.

2. Scope

This paper relates to the process for recording "traumatic" work related fatalities only (ie those having resulted from a physical trauma or poisoning). This excludes most disorders that would be seen as "diseases", such as cancers and heart attacks.

It is accepted that there is a case for establishing a data-base of fatalities caused by work-related diseases. Nevertheless, practical difficulties preclude this at present, in particular the inability to identify the majority of cases and to identify the industry and other relevant factors relating to identified cases. While some information does exist, for example data on mesothelioma deaths is available, information on disease fatalities relating to occupational exposures is largely incomplete at this time.

To be recorded, a fatality must be reported to WorkSafe.

3. Principles

The following guiding principles, when considered together, determine whether a reported fatality is to be recorded by WorkSafe.

Principles are:

  • The nexus with work. This is not a question of "yes" or "no" in any particular case, rather nexus with work can be viewed as a continuum which ranges from a very strong nexus to no nexus at all.
  • Whether the circumstances leading to the fatality are potentially covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (the OSH Act).
  • Whether WorkSafe has jurisdiction, and whether there is overlapping or overriding jurisdiction which makes it more appropriate that the case be recorded and/or investigated by another authority.

For completeness, WorkSafe includes in its statistics those work-related fatalities covered by the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 under the jurisdiction of the Resources Safety division of the Department of Consumer and Employment. Decisions on whether or not a particular mining fatality is recorded are made by the Resources Division, not WorkSafe.

4. Meaning of work

"Work" is not defined in the OSH Act. In this paper it includes activities undertaken for pay, profit, payment in kind or as a livelihood, including unpaid work in a family business, including on a farm or in fishing. It does not include unpaid domestic or home duties, studying (unless in connection with employment eg an apprenticeship), or volunteer activities.

Fatalities related to activities not classified as work are not recorded by WorkSafe Western Australia unless there is also a connection with work. For example, the death of a volunteer under the direction of a paid employee is recorded because there is a connection with work (although the volunteer was not "working" as defined in this paper. Volunteers are discussed more fully later in this paper.)

5. Inclusions

Category 1: Persons working for pay, profit, livelihood, or to support a family business

Description

Traumatic fatalities to persons who work for pay, profit, payment in kind or as a livelihood, in a job or business or on a farm, and persons who work without pay in a family business including farms.

Guidelines

Includes on-duty employers, employees and self employed persons.

Off-duty persons are included where the fatality is connected with the work (eg an off-duty fatality caused by the explosion of gas bottles, used for work, carried in the work vehicle).

See Category 2 for the treatment of motor vehicle accidents on public roads.

Exclusions

Commonwealth Government employees and members of the armed forces.

Rationale

Inclusions cover those fatalities that are clearly work related.

Exclusions are those employers, employees and self employed persons not covered by the OSH Act and fall outside the jurisdiction of WorkSafe Western Australia and the Western Australian Government. The department has no means of requiring these fatalities to be reported to WorkSafe Western Australia for recording purposes.

Category 2: Motor Vehicle Accidents on Public Roads

Description

Traumatic fatalities to employers, employees and self-employed persons involving motor vehicles on public roads.

Guidelines

Usually limited to cases where the worker was "on duty" and the fatality is reported to WorkSafe Western Australia as potentially involving an occupational safety and health issue. Examples include fatigue in the case of a commercial vehicle driver and cases where an unsafe motor vehicle has been provided by an employer to an employee.

Includes circumstances where an item of industrial plant was being used as a vehicle by the deceased person at the time of their death.

Exclusions

Commuting accidents, unless WorkSafe Western Australia is advised of some work related factor contributing to the fatality (eg fatigue due to working excessive hours leading to a motor vehicle accident after leaving work would be an inclusion rather than an exclusion).

On duty motor vehicle accidents on public roads where there is no identified occupational safety and health issue and there is little to distinguish the accident from one where the person was not "at work", eg where an employee's vehicle is struck by another vehicle while driving to a meeting.

Rationale

Inclusions are based on a strong nexus with work, coverage under the OSH Act and WorkSafe Western Australia being the appropriate investigative authority.

Exclusion of commuting accidents is based on the following factors:

  • limited nexus with work (a person commuting is on his or her own time and is not under the control or direction of the employer);
  • the activity is not covered by the OSH Act; and
  • WorkSafe has no jurisdiction.

On duty motor vehicle accidents on public roads where there is no identified safety and health issue are excluded for the following reasons:

  • this is an area of overlapping jurisdiction and road fatalities are adequately recorded and investigated by the Police Service;
  • unless there are specific occupational safety and health issues, there is little value WorkSafe can add to the investigation of such accidents;  and
  • as there is little to distinguish these accidents from other fatal motor vehicle accidents, they are not routinely identified by Police Officers as being work related.

It is recognised that this is an area where occupational fatalities data may be enhanced in future. This is discussed in Section 8 of this paper.

Category 3: Bystanders

Description

Bystanders are persons who are not working but are fatally injured as a result of work related activities.

Guidelines

Includes fatalities to workplace visitors, customers and others where the work activity, systems or processes or acts or omissions of an employee, self employed person, or other person with duties under the OSH Act contribute to the fatality.

Includes recreational activities where the deceased was or should have been under the direct control or supervision of an employee, employer or self employed person (eg a dive master or an abseiling instructor).

Students may be included, subject to the strength of the nexus with work.

Exclusions

Fatalities related to public roads, public transport and commercial aircraft in cases where:

  • the nexus with work is weak;
  • the events leading to the fatality do not suggest the involvement of an occupational safety and health issue; or
  • the matter falls under Commonwealth jurisdiction or some other more appropriate jurisdiction.

Rationale

Inclusions and exclusions are determined on the basis of the strength of the nexus with work, coverage under the OSH Act, and jurisdiction. In particular, the more indirect the link with work, then the less likely the fatality will be included. For example, in the case of a child drowning in a farm dam, if say the accident occurred during a family picnic when there were no work related activities being carried out, then the nexus with work would be weak and the fatality would be excluded. (This approach also recognizes that while farms are workplaces, they are also homes and recreational areas and it is necessary to consider the circumstances applying at the time of the fatality.)

Exclusions relating to public roads, public transport and commercial aircraft are based on limited nexus with work and limited jurisdiction of WorkSafe Western Australia coupled with the existence of a more appropriate jurisdiction (eg the Police Service or the Commonwealth). Such fatalities are included, jurisdiction permitting, when the work or work-related activity has had some direct bearing on the fatality.

Category 4: Volunteers

Description

This is a particular category of bystanders comprising of those persons acting as volunteers in community services such as volunteer fire fighters, volunteer welfare agency workers etc.

Guidelines

To be recorded, there needs to be some nexus with work (as defined in this paper) such as where the volunteer is under the control and supervision of an employer, self-employed person or employee.

Exclusions

Persons who have no connection with work, such as those who describe their occupation as "home duties", and volunteers providing services for a club or body that does not engage employees nor has any other connection with work.

Persons under the Commonwealth's "work for the dole" scheme.

Rationale

This category covers largely those volunteers who are provided with some protection under Section 21 of the OSH Act (duties of employers and self employed persons) or, to a lesser extent, Section 20 (duties of employees). In such cases there is a nexus with work, and WorkSafe has jurisdiction.

6. Relationship between WorkSafe's recording system and that used for the report on Work-related traumatic fatalities in Australia, 1989 to 1992

The reports on Work-related Traumatic Fatalities in Australia, 1989 to 1992 and Work-related Traumatic Fatalities in Western Australia, 1989 to 1992, both published by Safe Work Australia (formally the NOHSC and Australian Safety and Compensation Council), used the following definition of a death for inclusion in the study:

"A person who suffered a non-suicide traumatic death, that occurred in Australia or to Australian-based workers, to which workplace exposures contributed as a necessary factor and which can be attributed as an individual death, to those exposures."

The definition included:

  • working for pay or working without pay in a family business;
  • commuting to or from work;
  • bystanders - workplace; and
  • bystanders - road.

In addition, the study included

  • volunteers;
  • students;
  • home duties (eg unpaid cleaning, maintenance or childcare in own home or that of another person); and
  • all non-suicide traumatic deaths at rural workplaces regardless of the apparent connection to work.

WorkSafe has examined the approach adopted by NOHSC to assess its suitability for application to the department's recording system. The department has concluded the approach cannot be adopted because the NOHSC approach includes:

  • commuting fatalities which are not covered by the OSH Act and for which WorkSafe Western Australia has no jurisdiction;
  • home duties - such fatalities do not have a nexus with work, they are not covered by the OSH Act and they do not fall under WorkSafe Western Australia jurisdiction. Further, given the lack of both jurisdiction and connection with work, there is no basis on which WorkSafe Western Australia could seek to have such fatalities reported to the department;
  • volunteers, regardless of the nexus with work - WorkSafe includes only those that are connected with the work of an employer, employee, self-employed person or other person covered by the OSH Act, and therefore fall within the jurisdiction of the department; and
  • all traumatic fatalities at rural workplaces, regardless of the nexus with work.

7. Relationship between WorkSafe's recording system and fatalities data derived from the workers' compensation claims system

WorkCover WA publishes annual data on compensated work-related fatalities. This data is collected on a different basis to, and therefore is not directly comparable to, the traumatic work related fatalities data published by WorkSafe.

The workers' compensation data includes claims for fatalities that are specifically excluded, either in full or in certain cases, from WorkSafe's traumatic work-related fatalities data set. Notably these include heart attacks (excluded entirely from WorkSafe's data) and on-duty motor vehicle accidents (excluded from WorkSafe's data in many instances).

On the other hand, WorkSafe records a number of work-related traumatic fatalities that are not included in the WorkCover WA data. These relate to deaths of persons not covered by the workers' compensation system, such as self-employed persons and bystanders, those for whom the insurer has refused a claim, and cases where no claim has been lodged.

WorkCover WA's fatalities data is not suitable for adoption by WorkSafe for its occupational fatalities data set. In addition to the differences in coverage identified above, the WorkCover WA data differs in timeliness. WorkSafe's fatalities data is updated immediately a fatality is notified and determined to be work-related, usually within a very short period of the fatality having occurred. WorkCover WA data is tied to the claims system and cannot be included until the claim is accepted and notified by the insurer. WorkCover WA provides WorkSafe with data downloads at specified times and as such does not provide immediate updates with respect to a fatality.

A further consideration is that workers' compensation claims are determined and classified by individual insurers, which increases the risk of inconsistencies in the claims data, through differences in the treatment and/or classification of claims.

WorkSafe recognizes that inclusion of occupational disease fatalities (which would "pick up" identified work related heart attacks), and all work related road fatalities, would potentially enhance the department's recorded work related fatalities data. Such future enhancements are discussed below.

8. Future enhancements

In the interests of providing a fuller picture of occupational fatalities in Western Australia, there are two areas where WorkSafe will work towards establishing viable systems for identifying and recording cases. These are:

  • all fatal on-duty vehicle accidents on public roads (as distinct from only those that involve an identifiable occupational safety and health issue); and
  • fatalities caused by occupational diseases.

In the first instance, WorkSafe will hold discussions with the Police Service regarding the viability of being advised of cases falling under the first dot point above. In addition, the department will monitor developments towards the establishment of the National Coronial Data Base with a view to accessing work-related data once the data base is operational.

With respect to occupational disease fatalities, WorkSafe will further investigate existing and proposed future recording systems through the coronial and health systems with a view to proposing a means by which improved data may be collected.

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