3 ways a well-intentioned injury prevention strategy can go wrong

 

It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us will us suffer from injuries in our work lives.

Of the 13.4 million people who worked in 2017–18, 563,600 experienced a work‐related injury or illness during that time. That’s roughly 42 injuries for every 1,000 workers.1

 

So where are we going wrong?

It’s estimated that 70–90% of people will suffer from lower back pain in some form at some point in their lives2.

Body stressing is one of the common causes of the aches and pains you may experience at work. Body stressing injuries include muscle strains, back conditions, and tendonitis – typically caused by the manual tasks that you do in your everyday activities.

In fact, manual handling accounted for 41% of workers comp claims between 2011/2013 – a third of which are a result of lifting, pushing or pulling an object.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that manual handling injuries are isolated to people working in more physical roles and doing the ‘heavy lifting’ so to speak. Light loads lifted repetitively can cause the same damage (over a period of time) as a heavy lift. Even constant standing and sitting postures can result in a body stressing injury. The risks of sedentary work are becoming a growing challenge.

There is no surprise that the lion share of musculoskeletal injuries are back injuries – accounting for 21% of all workers compensation serious claims in 2014/15.3

As a result, we’ve seen a surge in programs across workplaces teaching safe lifting techniques and correct ergonomic set-up in a bid to protect their workers and reduce the impact of injuries in their workplace.

And while these programs certainly have their place and form an important component in WFR’s more injury prevention strategies, research has shown that simply teaching workers in ‘safe lifting techniques’ or ‘correct workstation set-up’ are not effective in reducing the number of injuries.

That’s because, training specific lifting or sitting techniques in a classroom are not easily transferred to varied real‐life situations, and it doesn’t take into account cumulative loading on the body. Lots of factors can contribute to the risk – including forces and loads, the work environment, the systems of work, and worker characteristics.

Injury prevention strategies often mistakenly focus on a single intervention. Whereas a successful preventative strategy takes a holistic approach.

 

Here are the top 3 ways WFR see well intentioned workplaces go wrong:

 

1. There is a lack of focus on education

We see many programs focus solely on postures and techniques, with little emphasis on education. Understanding the ‘why’, relevant anatomy, how injuries actually occur, and the risks of cumulative loading creates individual empowerment and allows your people to better adapt to their changing work environment.

Your workers are often your best resource for suggestions in risk reduction and can be underutilised. But it’s important for workers to understand how they may either eliminate or reduce the risks that exist to begin with.

 

2. They don’t look at the whole person

We see many organisations falling into the trap of rolling out an ‘intervention’ simply addressing the direct causes such as:

  • Strenuous manual handling
  • Awkward lifting of loads
  • Wear and tear from overuse

In addition to not effectively educating your people (above), we must also consider the indirect risk factors and take a more holistic approach to injury prevention. Indirect risk factors significantly affect an employee’s capacity to function and safely perform their job – including:

  • Lack of activity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Poor posture
  • Fatigue
  • Poor flexibility
  • Workplace factors, such as ergonomics, hazards, and work systems.

Take for example fatigue: even if your workers are getting an adequate amount of sleep, their food intake and hydration habits could seriously be affecting their energy levels and alertness.

Poor health and fatigue increase your risk of injury, but the good news is that small changes to your lifestyle can make a big difference.

 

3. Employees are not encouraged to take responsibility for their health & wellbeing

Much focus is placed on employers providing a safe and healthy workplace. And rightly so! However, employees also have a responsibility to ensure they turn up fit for their role. By neglecting their health and any warning signs, employees are impacting their performance, productivity and placing themselves at a higher risk of injury or disease – even in the safest work environment.

The average fully developed cost of a manual handling claim is $54,000. Sadly, research from Safe Work Australia indicates that the cost borne by employers for injury and accident is only 5% of the real cost. The majority of it is borne by workers.

Furthermore, the financial impact of injuries are only part of the equation, injuries can impact all aspects of your life. From lack of sleep due to pain, to the ability to participate in the activities we enjoy with our family and friends, the impact on our self-esteem, our mental wellbeing, our relationships and more.

With workers spending 40+ hours a week at workplaces around Australia, employers have a significant interest and opportunity to provide a culture that prioritises individual health and wellbeing.

From ensuring leaders are confident enough to discuss important health and safety matters and act (when required) to reviewing the relevant OHS policies and procedures for a consistent message – a lot can be done to ensure both employee and employer obligations are lived the breathed throughout the workplace.

 

If you want to discuss a proactive strategy for your business? Contact us today!

 

References:

  1. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/6324.0
  2. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/back-problems/contents/what-are-back-problems
  3. https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/infographic-workers-compensation-claims-2014-15