WorkSafe Warning: Residential Construction Injuries a Growing Concern

It may sound like we’re beating a dead horse when we stress the importance of owner builders purchasing a Personal Accident Insurance policy, but believe us when we say that far too many homeowners think “skyscrapers” and “commercial projects” when talking about serious construction injuries. Catastrophic mishaps can and do take place in the home.

WorkSafe recently launched a new residential construction safety initiative after releasing up-to-date data highlighting the gravity of the situation. During the past two years, in New South Wales alone, over 150 workers have been killed or seriously injured in the house building industry. That’s a lot for just one state.

We’re not talking high-rises, giant steel girders, heavy equipment and swinging cranes. These are carpenters, roofers, tradies, and homeowners working on run-of-the-mill one and two-story homes. If it can happen to experienced builders, then it can happen to you, too.

Insurance is great for back-up, but let’s change the way we work and keep Australia safe.

John Watson, General Manager of WorkCover’s NSW Work Health and Safety Division, says that it’s time for WorkCover and the house building industry to work together to reduce accident rates. In the last two years, injury claims have cost the NSW workers compensation scheme over $22million, and the industry is responsible for double the permanent disability applications over any other trade.

He notes, however, that the rolling out of this new action plan is not about the money. The goal is to reduce the number of Australian families that have to go through the devastating impact that a workplace injury causes.

The name of the project is “Focus on Industry – House Construction Project”, and it entails industry working collaboratively with WorkCover to identify and promote methods for managing high risk activities on house construction sites. The program aims to especially focus on smaller contractors and sole traders, as large companies tend to already have more robust safety protocols.

The Four Horsemen of the Injury Apocalypse.

WorkCover identifies four primary safety issues on house construction sites which cause the majority of preventable workplace injuries. Concerns to be addressed include falls through voids, unsafe movement of people and materials on-site, sun exposure, and delayed recovery and return to work.

While fingers, knees, and lower-back injuries are the most prevalent, falls from heights are the most likely to cause a major claim. 60% of all WorkCover applications in the house building industry are major claims, compared to 35% across all other trades. This fact highlights how dangerous house building really is.

What’s the plan, man?

Much of the Focus on Industry program involves on-site support and advice by WorkCover, as well as encouraging small businesses to incorporate safety incentives for their employees, similar to programs installed at larger construction firms. 

An area with huge room for improvement is in how smaller companies manage early recovery and return to work. Small business accounts for 85% of all worker compensation claims, but work recovery rates are much lower than at larger businesses.

Studies have shown that workers recover more quickly when back at work versus resting at home, but for this plan to work it’s important for recovering workers to ease back into their old job with transitional duties that are suitable for their current health conditions. Far too many small businesses take the “rest a week and then throw you back to the wolves” approach, and WorkCover hopes to make changes to this culture.

With 9,000 businesses and 44,000 employees across NSW, the house construction industry is a huge facet to our economy. It’s no wonder that WorkCover is taking an active position in making house construction sites a safer place to work. If you’re an owner builder, make sure you pick up what WorkCover is putting down.