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Blaming workers causes serious injury

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Phillip ByardBlaming employees, or their managers, for their own injuries means more and more Australian workers are left permanently disabled after serious workplace injuries, an expert says.

Phillip Byard of The InterSafe Group had sobering news for the safety profession when it gathered at The Safety Conference in Sydney during October. While statistics show that the overall number of compensated injuries has fallen, Mr Byard says the profession has failed to make an impact on the likelihood of permanent injury.  

"There has been an assumption that management of lower levels of damage will affect upper levels of damage and that's a myth," Mr Byard said. 

"In the nine-year period between the 1992 Industry Commission Board and the 2001 Productivity Commission Board, the cost of workplace injuries increased by 70 per cent," he said, "and non-fatal permanent disabilities were where the big dollars were and they continue to increase."  

The prevailing 'egocentric' model, which looks for human error and is focussed on placing blame, was ineffective in stemming the incidence of serious injuries, according to Mr Byard.  

"Safety managers, like all of us, tend to naturally subscribe to an egocentric model. If incidents are assumed to be caused by human error, then the only logical change is the behaviour of people and managing the change of human behaviour is a very difficult task," he said. "We need to look at why we investigate incidences and although apportioning blame is appropriate for law enforcement, safety managers should instead have a strong focus on change for the future."   

"Most safety incident models are birthed in the identification of unsafe acts or conditions and this has blocked, and continues to block, progress in safety."  

Mr Byard said a more scientific model based on better information than is currently available was essential.  

"There needs to be a certain level of dissatisfaction from government with the depth of the statistics and that's difficult to correct but incremental change over time could make a big difference. There also needs to be a lot of change at the employer and employee level."  

"Without significant surgical intervention, the problem will continue unabated and our society will become both increasingly disabled and angry towards the disabled because of the cost to the community. There's already disbelief and skepticism about what is occurring. Most people think the person who got hurt stuffed up and got what they deserved. And who cares about someone like that?"

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