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Tuesday, 16 October 1990
Page: 3108

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Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Is the Minister aware of a press report in the Adelaide Advertiser on 1 October of a study by Dr Richard» «Gun , senior lecturer in occupational and environmental health at the University of Adelaide, which suggests that the incidence of repetitive strain injury (RSI) is declining in South Australia? Does the Minister have any information to show whether trends are similar nationally? Are there other areas where women are particularly prone to work related injury? Can the Minister advise what steps the Government has taken, or has in mind, to find out why this is so and to find out ways to deal with work related injuries to women?


Senator COOK —The latest figures on repetitive strain injury seem to indicate that the number of new cases reported peaked in 1985-86 and, since then, has been declining. Excluding Victoria, the most recent Australian statistics available show a peak of 8,806 new cases recorded in 1985-86, dropping to 7,208 in 1986-87. Two-thirds of all RSI cases are recorded by women.

However, although RSI cases are reasonably well documented there are many other injuries that women in the work force suffer. The industries where women are particularly prone to work related injury and disease are certain manufacturing industries-specifically, clothing, textiles and footwear-and service industries, including the health, hospitality and food processing industries.

Many of these industries where women are prone to occupational injury have similar characteristics. They are industries where women of non-English speaking background are concentrated; where the jobs, in the main, are unskilled; and where there is a low proportion of female workers who are unionised. As well, there is a stigma attached to occupational injuries in some industries, which deters women-particularly migrant women- from officially reporting those injuries.

The injuries and diseases that women suffer are mainly sprains, strains and back and neck injuries. For example, nurses-a mainly female dominated occupation-suffer a high incidence of back pain. Workers in the food industry suffer a high incidence of skin disorders.


Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Senator Cook is not answering the question. A statement is being read. The statement can be tabled or incorporated and we can get on with the business of questions without notice.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order because the question was clearly within the Minister's area of competence.


Senator COOK —Worksafe Australia has taken steps to ensure that women work in safe and healthy working environments by endorsing, at the March 1990 national commission meeting, a national approach to occupational health and safety for women workers.

In line with the national agenda for women, the national approach draws together the areas of concern in the industries where women are concentrated and gives priority to addressing occupational health and safety issues for women through four major projects, which, briefly put, are: a cost benefit analysis of occupational health and safety initiatives in the textiles, clothing and footwear industry; the development of a guidance note on manual handling in the retail industry in consultation with the Victorian Department of Labour; the development of an Australian anthropometric dataset to be used to assist in designing workplaces and machinery so that the job should be within the capacities of 90 per cent of the population; and the development of information and training for farm safety through women on farms. These are being progressed through Worksafe Australia's occupational health and safety grants scheme. All these projects are in the preliminary stages of development and involve cooperation and assistance from unions, employers, government bodies and, of course, workers.