Sole traders three times more likely to die at work: Report

Sole traders and self-employed workers are three times more likely than employees to die in a workplace accident, according to shocking statistics from Safe Work Australia. 

The report, titled Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities, Australia 2013, examined the number of people killed last year as a result of workplace-related incidents, including bystander fatalities.

It comes just weeks after furniture retailer Super-A Mart was fined $30,000 in the Perth Magistrates Court, after two employees were injured when a forklift toppled.

The report found self-employed workers suffered a fatality rate of 4.39 deaths per 100,000, significantly above the rate of 1.32 employees per 100,000 for the general population.

It also found the number of workplace deaths has consistently fallen over the past six years, with the total number of workplace deaths for 2013 down to 191, falling 16% from 228 deaths in 2012.

But despite the number of workplace deaths trending downwards, there has been little improvement in the rate at which sole traders are killed at work. The 2013 figure is actually significantly higher than the 43 sole traders killed at work in 2009.

Of the workplace-related deaths in 2013, 52 (or nearly a quarter) were of self-employed workers, compared to 137 regular employees and two volunteers.

This is despite the fact that self-employed workers now make up just 10% of the Australian workforce, down from 13% a decade earlier. 

The report identifies two key reasons why sole traders are at far higher risk of death at work than other employees.

“Firstly, self-employed workers tend to work in the more hazardous industries of agriculture, forestry & fishing, transport, postal & warehousing and construction,” the report states.

“Secondly, self-employed workers tend to stay working in their business well past the age that employees generally retire.”

“This is particularly evident with farming businesses where people continue to work in some capacity until much older ages than is seen in the employee workforce.”

A spokesperson from Safe Work Australia told SmartCompany two industries in particular were dangerous for sole traders.

“Most of the fatalities involving self-employed workers were in the agriculture and transport sectors. These sectors have higher rates than other industries,” the spokesperson says.

“The overall employee fatality rate is lower than the self-employed rate as there are lots of employees in industries with lower risks (office based work) which brings the overall rate down.”

The spokesperson says for sole traders in the agriculture sector, the use of outdated equipment is a key risk.

“[Many] self-employed farmers do not have rollover protection (ROPS) on their tractors. ROPS are required if the tractor is used by an employee or the tractor was manufactured after 1981,” the spokesperson says.

“While farmers should adhere to work health and safety legislation, when you are working for yourself you may take greater risks. Jurisdictions across Australia have lots of guidance material on how to make working on farms safer.”

The spokesperson says the most common cause of fatalities in the transport and trucking sector is vehicle crashes on public roads, with most believed to be fatigue related.

“This is an issue for all workers. [This] report did not separate the data into self-employed and employees but the pressures to meet deadlines affect both worker groups.”

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