OHS expert Professor Helen Lingard is helping build safer work environments for thousands of Australian and international construction workers at higher risk of death or injury than other occupations.
Lingard will now step up her efforts for safer workplace practices as a member of an expert panel chosen by Safe Work Australia as part of its 2015 Virtual Seminar Series.
A recipient of a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, Lingard will join Work Safety Commissioner and Senior Director of WorkSafe, Mark McCabe, and a senior representative of the Australian Constructors Association in a Q and A session in Canberra to be filmed before a live audience and to feature on the SWA YouTube channel.
“In Australia in 2013, 191 workers were killed at work, while thousands more were temporarily or permanently affected by work-related injury and sickness,’’ Lingard said.
“The construction industry accounted for 10 per cent (19 fatalities) of the total 191 fatal injuries, but this was the lowest number in 11 years and a substantial reduction from the 46 construction deaths recorded in 2007.
“To put things into perspective, in the five years from 2007/08 to 2011/12, some 211 construction workers died from work-related injuries - more than 40 a year.
“The number of work-related construction deaths equates to 4.34 fatalities per 100 000 workers - or almost twice the Australian national rate of 2.29 for the same period.
“Over the same time, construction also accounted for 11 per cent of all serious workers’ compensation claims, with an average of 39 claims requiring one or more weeks off work because of work-related injury or disease every day.’’
Lingard said the tragedy for the industry was that most of the deaths were preventable.
Most involved falls from height or vehicle collisions.
“These are well-understood hazards, which can be controlled through the adoption of known hazard elimination/reduction interventions and solutions,’’ she said.
“These alarming figures pose a significant threat to the industry’s social sustainability and continue despite the best efforts of regulators and policy makers at both State and Federal levels.
“These deaths and injuries remain a major concern because of their rates compared to other industries and the serious human and economic impacts associated with accidents.
“The focus of much of our research to prevent these deaths and injuries involves engaging multiple stakeholders from the construction industry supply chain to work together to improve OHS.’’
Lingard works with industry partners to address real world challenges in construction OHS.
A student of politics, Lingard dropped thoughts of being a journalist to instead study construction safety when working in Hong Kong, where she became aware of the many workers killed or hurt on the job.
“I was then employed as a research assistant and began writing about the subject before being granted a PhD scholarship.
“On completion, I went to work on major infrastructure projects like the Hong Kong international airport in a safety role.’’