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Altius Group’s Matthew Counsel shares his take-aways from the paper and offers a way forward to keep your employees strain free in 2020.

“Despite significant declines in the number of compensation claims in recent years, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) still account for the majority of workers’ compensation costs”, according to a research paper published by Safe Work Australia in December.

Altius Group’s Matthew Counsel shares his take-aways from the paper and offers a way forward to keep your employees strain free in 2020.

With our workforce ageing, employees are increasingly prone to WMSDs. It seems that while many musculoskeletal disorders may result from a single event, more commonly they arise from cumulative exposure to one or more hazards over an extended period. The findings from the report provide us with important insights on how we can lower WMSD rates. Specifically, it shows us that preventative measures and an increased focus on workplace safety by assessing such factors as workplace modifications, work-health safety education, revising outdated safe work practices and refreshing training on correct manual handling techniques, can make a significant impact on reducing WMSDs.

This excerpt from the report is particularly insightful in explaining how focus should be redirected when it comes to managing and preventing WMSDs within organisations – “A tendency exists to try and pinpoint the exact event which triggered the injury, in part driven by the workers’ compensation systems which generally require identification and date of a ‘causative incident’. In cases where WMSDs are related to cumulative exposure, this approach can lead to misdiagnosis or omission of the relevant workplace hazards, and then a subsequent development of controls that are not appropriately targeted” (Safe Work Australia, December 2019).

The research paper also found “Based on a review of the research literature and interviews with 20 key stakeholders (8 regulators, 9 consultants, 3 industry associations) in WMSD prevention, the use of comprehensive strategies to address all workplace hazards—physical and psychosocial—is limited”.

What Does this Mean?

It means there is plenty of scope for preventative interventions that are focused on changing an individual’s behaviour or reducing task-specific hazards. More generally it means adopting a systems approach to risk management, to reduce the incidence of WMSDs.

Assessment and Education – The Keys to Creating a Safety Culture

As a starting point, and to improve workplace safety, workplaces need to have a comprehensive understanding of work tasks which take in all aspects of an individual’s work – it’s about taking a holistic approach that moves beyond just manual handling techniques (although these are very important too).

Assessing such elements as physical loads, how work is organised, rest breaks, working hours, individual and psychosocial factors (to name a few) make up a comprehensive assessment. Those highlighted in Safe Work Australia’s latest research include:

  • Task and equipment factors: characteristics of specific work tasks and the tools or equipment used in performing these tasks. These include the physical hazards associated with ‘manual handling’ tasks, which are widely recognised as affecting WMSD risk.
  • Work organisation and job design factors: how work is organised, and jobs are designed. These factors could include very long working hours, pressure to complete excessively large amounts of work in the time available, inadequate rest breaks, night shifts, jobs with low control over work rate and little variety or interest in work tasks.
  • Workplace environment factors: This category includes both physical and psychosocial factors. Physical environment factors include air quality, extreme heat or cold, and loud noise. The psychosocial environment includes factors arising from the general workplace culture or climate, such as widespread perceptions that getting work done quickly is more important than workers’ health and safety. The psychosocial factors related to organisational climate are often considered with job design, and both act as stressors.

What is clear from this latest research is that through assessment of the hazards unique to each workplace and each role, steps can be taken to minimise risk – creating a safer workplace and lowering workers compensation costs. A systematic management approach is required to identify, control, educate and implement safe work behaviours within your teams.

So, with 2020 well underway, now is the time to act for a safer, healthier and prosperous year ahead.

Altius Group helps assess potential hazards, risks or holistic issues associated with increased risk to WMSDs. Visit our WHS page for full details.