While workplace fatalities in Australia have reduced by over a third in the past decade, 3.5% or around half a million workers sustain a work-related injury or illness each year, costing over $37.6 billion in costs to the health system1 and considerable business losses through costs and productivity impacts.2.

Mitigating these safety risks in business operations for employees is critical, with especially dangerous conditions over hot summer months for outdoor workers and specific industries.

Sun exposure the key risk for Australian outdoor workers

The major risk affecting outdoor workers in Australia is skin cancer due to prolonged exposure to harmful ultra violet (UV) radiation. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with about two in three people diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the age of 70.3

Outdoor workers in Australia are more than twice as likely to develop skin cancer than those who work inside. Cancer Council research shows as many as 34% of Australian workers are exposed to direct sunlight during working hours and it is estimated that around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers a year can be attributed to occupational exposures to UV radiation.4

Employers are required by law to protect workers from UV radiation

Workers in industries, such as construction and agriculture, that involve long hours working outdoors are most at risk, Solar radiation is the most common carcinogen construction workers are exposed to (86%), according to research conducted by the Australian Work Exposure Study (AWES).5

Under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 20116 employers have a duty of care to protect their employees from UV radiation, which is classified as a class 1 carcinogen (in the same health risk category as asbestos). Employers and workers can be prosecuted if they don't comply.

Preventative measures to reduce workers' UV risks include:

  • raising safety awareness through education, training and pre-work huddles
  • monitoring of the use of protective clothing, including hats and eyewear
  • regular application of high grade effective sunblock.

Tinnitus and hearing loss: sound/noise risk for workers in some sectors

Safe Work Australia regulations regarding the management of noise and hearing testing across all Australian workplaces will become mandatory in April 2024.7

It is estimated that about 1 million Australian workers may have their hearing impaired by exposure to dangerous levels of noise at work, with approximately 10% of adult-onset hearing loss due to workplace noise, according to industry research. Occupational hearing loss can also cause tinnitus, a persistent ringing, buzzing or whistling in one or both ears.

The risk of damage to hearing depends on two factors: the volume of noise and the period of exposure. Lower levels may be damaging if experienced over extended periods, and higher levels can cause harm even in a short time.

Industries associated with risk of hearing damage include manufacturing — it's estimated up to 80% of manufacturing workers suffer from some form of hearing loss — and construction, carpentry, engineering and mining.

Preventative measures to reduce noise/sound risks to workers include:

  • raising safety awareness through education, training and pre-work huddles
  • monitoring of the use of ear protection
  • ensuring that the noise a worker is exposed to at the workplace does not exceed the exposure standard for noise
  • providing audiometric testing to workers frequently required to use personal hearing protectors against hearing loss due to noise exceeding the exposure standard.

How businesses can improve workplace risks

Establishing effective risk management strategies in specific working environments involves contributions from each party — the employer, supervisor, worker and regulatory body. Each of these participants' responsibilities collectively contributes to mitigating potential hazards.

  1. Employers should assess the risks posed and conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the work environment, identify potential risks specific to the nature of the work, and ensure the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety gear.
    Safety procedures for the workspace and the provision of comprehensive training and education on potential risks and safety training, including emergency protocols and recognising signs of exhaustion.
  2. Safety policies and procedures need to be effectively communicated and workers' adherence to safety procedures monitored, with intervention when necessary to enforce best practices.
    Oversight and vigilance includes investigating all incidents, accidents, and even near-misses, documenting in detail each finding, identifying root causes, and implementing corrective actions to prevent a similar event.
  3. Participating in safety training helps them be aware of workplace risks, achieve competence in implementing safe work practices and in reporting minor incidents and unsafe practices. Taking necessary breaks, regularly hydrating, wearing the correct PPE and alerting supervisors if they notice signs of problems all contribute to greater safety for employees at work.

The role of risk management in protecting employers and employees

By identifying, analysing, and managing risks to establish high standards of workplace safety employers can be proactive about protecting the wellbeing of outdoor workers and those exposed to specific high impact risks like sound/noise.

Injuries, health issues and accidents that occur in workspaces can have significant repercussions on businesses, in the form of litigation, regulatory sanctions and penalties, and increased labour costs, all of which eventually result in higher insurance premiums.

The Gallagher approach to risk management and mitigation can enable clients to transform their workplaces quickly and effectively. For many of our clients it's one of the reasons they choose Gallagher.

The overarching Gallagher Workplace Health & Safety offering encompasses everything from incident management and investigation, safety mentoring and training through to health and wellness programs, hazard and risk profiling or highly configurable online safety management systems.

Find out more about meeting your business's workplace safety needs by talking to one of our workplace safety experts.

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Gallagher provides insurance, risk management and benefits consulting services for clients in response to both known and unknown risk exposures. When providing analysis and recommendations regarding potential insurance coverage, potential claims and/or operational strategy in response to national emergencies (including health crises), we do so from an insurance and/or risk management perspective, and offer broad information about risk mitigation, loss control strategy and potential claim exposures. We have prepared this commentary and other news alerts for general information purposes only and the material is not intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as, legal or client-specific risk management advice. General insurance descriptions contained herein do not include complete insurance policy definitions, terms and/or conditions, and should not be relied on for coverage interpretation. The information may not include current governmental or insurance developments, is provided without knowledge of the individual recipient's industry or specific business or coverage circumstances, and in no way reflects or promises to provide insurance coverage outcomes that only insurance carriers' control.

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