Workers’ compensation provides financial support if a person is injured at work or becomes sick due to work. It can include payments to cover their wages while they are unable to work, payments for medical expenses and rehabilitation costs, and lump sum payments where an injury is deemed permanent. It can also include payments to families for work-related deaths.

Workers’ compensation payments cover minor injuries through to life-long injuries and death. Most of the data on this page relate to serious claims that resulted in at least 1 week off work. For more information, see Safe Work Australia .

Australia’s workers’ compensation system

In Australia, workers’ compensation laws are based on a ‘no fault’ principle. This means that a worker does not need to prove that their employer was negligent to be eligible for workers’ compensation, but only that their injury or disease was work-related (Safe Work Australia 2018).

For most businesses in Australia, purchasing workers’ compensation insurance to cover their employees in case of work-related injury, disease or death is compulsory. However, sole traders and some contractors are not covered by workers’ compensation schemes and may need to purchase independently other forms of insurance. For more information, visit business.gov.au.

In Australia, each state and territory has its own workers’ compensation scheme. There are also some schemes administered by the Australian Government, with Comcare being the main scheme. For more information, see Comcare .

Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across states and territories, including in scheme funding, common law access, coverage and eligibility, level of entitlements and return to work arrangements. In some states and territories, insurers privately underwrite the jurisdiction’s compensation scheme; in others, insurers operate as scheme agents, or the scheme is completely administered by the jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, eligible businesses may be able to self-insure.

How many people experience work-related injury or disease?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Work Related Injuries Survey, in 2017–18 more than 560,000 people were estimated to have had a work-related injury or disease regardless of whether any compensation claim was made (Figure 1). Of these, 39% did not require any time off work, 6.4% took part of a day or shift off work, 25% took 1–4 days off work, and 25% took 5 or more days off work. The remaining 3.6% had not returned to work since the work-related injury or illness occurred (ABS 2019).

Of those who experienced a work-related injury or illness in 2017–18, the most frequently cited causes of injury or illness were ‘lifting, pushing, pulling or bending’ (an estimated 135,900 people), ‘hitting or being hit or cut by an object or vehicle’ (102,400 people) and ‘slips or falls on the same level’ (87,000 people).

Work-related injury or illness in 2017–18 occurred most commonly at the workplace (92%), followed by travelling on business (3.0%), on lunchtime or break activities (2.2%), and travelling to and from work (1.2%).

In 2017–18, the estimated proportion of workers who experienced a work-related injury or disease decreased to 4.2% of workers, down from 6.4% in 2005–06.
 

There were 563,600 total workplace injuries or illnesses in Australia in 2017–18, down from 689,500 in 2005–06. It also shows that the proportion of all employees who worked in 2017–18 that experienced a work-related injury or illness was 4.2%, down from 6.4% in 2005–06.

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Who receives workers’ compensation?

In 2017–18, 299,000 people—or just over half (53%) of all those who experienced a work-related injury or disease—received some form of financial assistance. About two-thirds (67%) of employees with paid leave entitlements received financial assistance, compared with 29% of those without paid leave entitlements (ABS 2019).

In total, of those who received financial assistance:

  • 52% received workers’ compensation
  • 45% did not apply for workers’ compensation
  • 3% applied for but did not get workers’ compensation.

The main reasons people reported not applying for workers’ compensation were because they ‘had only suffered a minor injury and did not consider it necessary’ (43% of those who did not apply), they ‘were not covered or not aware of workers’ compensation’ (13%), and they ‘did not think they were eligible for workers’ compensation’ (9.0%).

Serious claims

Serious claims are defined as those claims in which the injury or disease resulted in the employee taking 5 or more days off work but do not include compensated deaths.

In 2017–18, Safe Work Australia reported that there were 107,335 serious claims for workers’ compensation, which translated to 9.1 serious claims per 1,000 employees in Australia and 5.5 serious claims per million hours worked (Safe Work Australia 2020) (Figure 2).

Overall, the rates of serious claims decreased between 2000–01 and 2017–18. Between 2000–01 and 2017–18, serious claims in the manufacturing industry fell by more than 14,000 (a 52% decrease), the largest decrease by number of claims for any Australian industry. Over the same period, the manufacturing industry had a 44% decrease in the number of serious claims per 1,000 employees.
 

In 2016–17, there were 9.1 serious claims per 1,000 employees and 5.5 serious claims per million hours worked, which has been a consistent downward trend from 16.3 and 9.5, respectively, in 2000–01.

In 2017–18, males accounted for 63% of all serious claims, and 58% of total hours worked. Among males, the highest incidence rate of claims occurred in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry, at 18.3 serious claims per 1,000 employees. For female employees, the highest incidence rate of claims also occurred in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry at 12.6 serious claims per 1,000 employees.

In 2017–18, the highest incidence rate of claims occurred for those aged 55–59, at 12.5 serious claims per 1,000 employees. Those aged 15–19 had the lowest rate of claims at 5.5 serious claims per 1,000 employees.

Of all occupation groups, labourers had the highest incidence rate of claims in 2017–18, at 24.1 serious claims per 1,000 employees (Figure 3). This was followed by machinery operators and drivers (20.3 claims per 1,000 employees), and community and personal service workers (14.1 claims per 1,000 employees).
 

In 2017–18, labourers had the highest frequency rate and total number of serious claims overall. For disease-related claims, however, community and personal service workers had the highest frequency rate and total number of serious claims. Sales workers, managers, and clerical and administrative workers had the lowest rate and total number of serious claims overall.

Type of injuries or diseases

In 2017–18, 89% of serious claims were for injury and musculoskeletal disorders (Safe Work Australia 2020). The remaining serious claims were for diseases, including mental health conditions (7.5% of total serious claims), digestive system diseases (1.9%) and nervous systems and sense organ diseases (1.0%).

Overall, 41% of claims were for traumatic joint/ligament and muscle/tendon injury, followed by wounds, lacerations, amputations and internal organ damage (16%) and musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases (14%). Fractures accounted for 11% of serious claims, and mental health conditions 7.5%.

In 2017–18, labourers (25,055 serious claims) and community and personal service workers (16,560 serious claims) accounted for the highest number of injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (Figure 3). Community and personal service workers (2,335) and professionals (2,245 serious claims) accounted for the highest number of disease-related serious claims.

See Health expenditure.

Costs

Work-related injuries, diseases and deaths are costly to employers, workers and their communities.

In 2017–18, $1.8 billion was spent through workers’ compensation agencies for work-related injuries and diseases (AIHW 2019). This was an increase of 3.7% since 2016–17, which was higher than the average annual growth rate over the decade of 1.3%.

In 2016–17, a median time of 5.3 weeks of work was lost for serious claims in the injury and musculoskeletal disorder group, and 10.2 weeks for diseases (Safe Work Australia 2020). Adjusting for changes in the price of labour (base year 2000–01), the median compensation paid in 2016–17 was $7,100.

Of all types of injuries and diseases, mental health conditions resulted in the highest median time off work (17.3 weeks) and the highest median compensation paid ($30,800). Injuries to the nerves and spinal cord had the next highest median time off work (10.8 weeks), and were the next most costly at $21,100, after ‘other diseases’ ($22,000).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on workers’ compensation, see:

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Work-Related Injuries, Australia, Jul 2017 to Jun 2018. ABS cat. no. 6324.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Health expenditure Australia 2017–18. Cat. no. HWE 077. Canberra: AIHW.

Safe Work Australia 2018. Comparison of workers’ compensation arrangements in Australia and New Zealand. Canberra: Safe Work Australia.

Safe Work Australia 2020. Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics 2017–2018. Canberra: Safe Work Australia.