People Are Dying And Being Traumatised At Work, With Calls For Urgent Change
An alarming number of workers are being injured, traumatised or experiencing violence at work, with growing calls to ensure workplaces are safe.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions surveyed more than 26,000 Australian workers in July. Their report found that 80 percent of workers had suffered a mental or physical injury on the job.
Almost half of respondents (47 percent) said they had experienced trauma or distressing situations in the past 12 months, while close to a third (31 percent) had suffered violence after being abused, threatened or assaulted by clients, customers or co-workers.
The survey also highlighted an alarming growth in the rate of psychosocial injuries, with three in five workers admitting to suffering stress, depression or anxiety at work.
Among them is Beth Celestino, a former finance worker from Victoria who said that her health had deteriorated so much she had to leave her job after more than 20 years.
"I retired early after bullying, overwork and unreasonable management affected my health so badly my doctor warned me I was at risk of a stroke," she told media on Monday.
Dale Mills worked a similar job in NSW and explained that her workplace had become so toxic that she too had to take time off for health reasons and couldn't bring herself to return.
"Anxiety and depression are commonplace [at the business] and with my heart problem I would have returned to a decent workplace but I couldn't go back there and I worry about the people who are there still," she said.
She explained that there are some days she couldn't leave her post, even to go to the bathroom and that several of her colleagues, to this day, are eating lunch in their car so they actually had a chance to eat.
As well as psychosocial injuries, workers are also increasingly being exposed to traumatic and distressing events and violence at work, according to the Work Shouldn’t Hurt survey.
Erin Francis is a registered nurse working in a mental health facility in Sydney and said that violence is often an every-day occurrence for many medical professionals.
"I've been assaulted twice in my workplace which has left me with a long-term whiplash injury," she said.
She explained that unaddressed psychological hazards were leaving nurses feeling stressed, anxious and depressed.
"We need work, health and safety laws to enforce employers to act on these risks and introduce acceptable nurse to patient ratios to provide safe patient care," she said.
"The current workload is unacceptable".
As of today, more than 80 workers have been killed in Australian workplaces this year already.
"Every one of these deaths is preventable," ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O'Brien said.
"In addition, thousands more will die from workplace diseases."
The survey found that almost one in five workers knows someone who has been killed at work or has died of a workplace disease.
"That is why we are calling on state and federal ministers to immediately introduce industrial manslaughter laws to ensure that bosses who cut corners and kill workers face the harshest possible penalties," O'Brien said.
"We also want to see an end to companies being able to claim workplace penalties on their insurance."
"This is a disgusting act that makes the act of killing and seriously injuring workers just a part of everyday business and this must end."
The union is calling on ministers to implement all 34 recommendations of the Boland review of model workplace health and safety laws released earlier this year.