Another year of disastrous construction worker deaths recorded

Alan Austin (Independent Australia)

Data released for 2020 shows a substantial increase in fatalities relative to the volume of construction activity, for the second year running.

The bar graph above shows workplace deaths per 100 billion dollars worth of construction activity from 2005 until 2020.

Interpreting the data

Safe Work Australia tracks fatalities in all sectors. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) records engineering construction activity. The chain volume measures (CVM) have eliminated the effects of price and hence reflect construction volumes.

Before 2005, construction deaths were high and considered inevitable. By the end of the Howard period, unions and others had succeeded in getting the fatality rate below 60 per $100 billion of construction activity.

After Labor gained office in 2007, new regulations and better safety education reduced this dramatically; below 45 in 2008, below 35 by 2011, below 20 in 2012 and down to 13.9 in 2013.

This was commendable progress, though the 21 workers killed that year were still 21 too many.

That trend was reversed immediately after the Coalition came to office in 2013 with loud proclamations that regulations fettering corporations would be scrapped. Deaths surged dramatically in 2014 – up from 21 to 32 – despite activity contracting by nearly 11%.

Though, worse was to come. In 2015 and 2016, activity collapsed further but deaths rose.

The next two years saw fatalities decline substantially, down to 30 in 2017 and 24 in 2018. But in 2019, deaths increased to 26, despite less activity, more than doubling the fatality rate

over Labor's in 2013.

In 2020, activity slipped further while the toll rose again. The death rate in 2020 exceeded 30 per $100 billion of activity, for only the second time in nine years.


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