Did you know that musculoskeletal injuries are the cause of over half of all workers’ compensation claims received each year in Queensland?

In the waste recycling industry, musculoskeletal injuries (for example muscle sprains/strains and back injuries) make up almost 48%* of all injuries, with 245 new claims lodged in the 2015-16 financial year.

The cost of these claims during that period was over $3.0 million at an average of $9,608 per claim.

WorkCover Queensland Customer Service Manager Ben Wyeth said 31% of musculoskeletal injuries were back-related, while shoulder/upper arm (18%) and knee/upper leg (14%) were the next most common injuries.

“The 40-50 year old age group was most affected by musculoskeletal claims (29%), while those in the 50-60 year age bracket contributed over 23% of claims,” Ben added.

“On average, workers have 45 days off work to recover from this type of injury.

“While it is not surprising that musculoskeletal injuries make up the majority of claims due to the manual handling nature of many occupations, there are steps that employers and workers can take to prevent these injuries.”

Top three causes and prevention

“The top three most common causes of musculoskeletal injuries are lifting, carrying or putting down objects, falls and repetitive movement or strain,” Ben said.

“One way an employer can minimise and eliminate these injuries is to develop and implement an effective risk assessment approach.”

One of the most commonly asked questions by employers is ‘what is the safe way to lift a heavy object?’

Research evidence suggests that there is no safe way to lift. The focus should instead be on risk management. When considering a task that involves lifting, employers should ask:

  • Why do the workers have to lift?
  • Can that part of the job be eliminated?
  • Can the task be done another way?

For example, if a worker is required to lift a heavy box and this part of the job can’t be eliminated, consider if the task can be done another way.

It is important for employers to protect their workers from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), also known as sprain and strain injuries that result from lifting or other hazardous manual tasks.

Ben says fall injuries in the workplace are easily preventable if employers and workers work together on four simple steps – identify hazards, assess their risk, x the problem and monitor performance.

“There is no excuse for complacency from employers and workers when it comes to eliminating workplace hazards which can cause people to slip, trip and fall and suffer potentially life-threatening injuries,” he said.

When it comes to repetitive movement and strain, talking to workers about the problems they notice in the tasks they’re performing is a great way to identify where improvements can be made and what solutions will deliver the best outcomes.

Some employers in the waste recycling industry have introduced a few initiatives that have had a positive in uence on the physical health of their workers. These include:

  • Healthy worker initiatives to encourage improved tness and health and wellbeing
  • Stretching and exercise before and after each shift
  • Manual Handling videos demonstrating with industry speci c equipment, correct ways to lift and undertake various daily tasks associated with waste industry speci c roles.

There are plenty of easy to use tools and resources from trusted global injury prevention authorities, including Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, available for employers and workers to prevent lifting or fall injuries.

Getting better at work

While workers’ compensation claims have been falling, WorkCover data shows only 52.7% of those who sustain a musculoskeletal injury stay at work while they’re recovering from their injury, which may mean it has been a challenge to nd meaningful suitable duties.

Dr Graeme Edwards, Senior Consultant Physician in Occupational and Environmental Medicine – Work & Health Risk Management, says it is important to remember that the availability of suitable duties critically depends on the employer, not the doctor.

“With a physical injury, suitable duties requires consideration of the injured worker’s physical abilities matched to the physicality of task requirements and the workplace environment,” he said.

“A ‘return to work contingency plan’ addresses not only the physical task requirements, but also the perceptions of both the individual and their immediate supervisor. This establishes an agreed action plan to be followed in various circumstances.”

Dr Edwards said the plan is designed to enhance or improve the worker’s con dence, resilience and capacity, while at the same time, reducing the risk of relapse.

Additionally, the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ position statement, ‘Realising the health bene ts of work’, indicates work plays an important role in any rehabilitation process because ‘doing’ promotes recovery.

If a person is off work for:

  • 20 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 70 per cent
  • 45 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 50 per cent
  • 70 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 35 per cent.

“By understanding the role of the doctor and the employer, together we can make a difference,” Dr Edwards said.

“Because for a signi cant proportion of these people, they still have some capacity to work and may even be better off at work.”

*All data is from WorkCover Queensland 2015-16 financial year claim figures.

For more information visit; www.worksafe.qld.gov.au