The Rise of Musculoskeletal Work-Related Injuries and How to Prevent Them


Did you know that 90% of worker’s compensation claims in 2014-2015 were due to injury and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)? This data comes from the latest report released by Safe Work Australia. The numbers also show that the parts of the body most affected by injury or disease were the back (21%), hand (13%), shoulder (11%), and knee (10%). MSDs are any injury, damage, or disorder of the joints, muscles, nerves, and tendons in the back or upper or lower limbs.


The report also shows that Australia spends more than $60 billion a year on workplace injury and illness. Experts say it comes as no surprise that musculoskeletal problems make up the majority of claims since many occupations require manual handling. However, these types of injuries can be eliminated or minimised through simple and cost-effective initiatives.


Most Common and Costly Musculoskeletal Injuries at Work


A 2016 report entitled “Statistics on Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders” shows that over a five-year period (2009 to 2014), there were 360, 180 serious MSD claims. Of that number, the top problems were soft tissue disorders (29%), trauma to muscles and tendons (21%) and trauma to joints or ligaments (14%).


The data also shows that the majority of serious MSD claims were due to body stressing, specifically muscular stress while lifting, carrying, or putting down objects (62.9%). The second most common cause was falls, trips, or slips of a person (22.


Serious claims for MSD injuries and diseases resulted in a 35% increase in the median time lost from work between 2000 and 2013. The frequency rates for serious MSD claims generally increased as age group increased. Statistics show that older employees aged 45 to 64 years for both males and females made an average of 5 claims per million hours worked. Considering the impact of ageing on the human body, it comes as no surprise that the older population are more susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.


According to a recent post on disease and injury statistics on the Safe Work Australia website, the median time lost for a serious claim rose by 33% between 2000-2001 and 2013-2014. From 4.2 working weeks, the numbers rose to 5.6. Over the same period, compensation for such claims increased by 94% – from $5,200 in 2000-2001, it grew to $10,100 in 2013-2014.  


Why the Numbers Are Alarming


The latest released data shows that although the rate of serious claims is decreasing, the time lost from work is increasing. Additionally, it is costing the economy more than $60 billion when there are preventative solutions available for just a fraction of that amount. But it is not only the Australian economy that is affected. Workers who suffer from MSD injury or disease experience pain, stress, anxiety, and suffering. All of these can worsen their current health condition. And of course, with more employees taking time off due to musculoskeletal injuries or illnesses, the other workers are affected due to changes in their workload and environment.


Another point to consider is that the Australian workforce is ageing. Based on the 2015 Intergenerational report, the number of workers over 65 will rise from 12.9% to 17.3% by 2023. Thanks to medical interventions, more people are able to work well into their golden years and have more time to prepare for their retirement and aged care needs. But this also means that more employees will be older and ageing, and thus are more susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.  


This chain reaction and the compelling statistics have pushed Safe Work Australia to identify MSDs as a priority in its “Australian Strategy 2012 to 2022” report.


How to Prevent Musculoskeletal Injuries at Work


  1. Develop and implement a risk assessment plan.


This includes identifying, assessing, controlling, and evaluating safety hazards and risks.


  1. Practice pre-employment screening.


Ensure that testing is more specific to the requirements of a certain job. For example, if you are hiring a removal team, make sure applicants are able to handle the physical demands of their work. You should also make more functional job descriptions.


  1. Train employees in preventative measures.


You can work with physiotherapists who specialise in workplace wellness. These experts can give your company injury prevention seminars, manual handling and risk mitigation trainings, and ergonomic assessments. They can also conduct exercise programs focusing on strength and conditioning for the rehabilitation and injury prevention of your employees.


  1. Create a more ergonomic and safer environment.


Tailoring equipment and adjusting work station layouts are just some ways to improve posture and prevent MSD injuries and illnesses. When implementing your ergonomics programs, make sure that you take into consideration any special needs that your workers might have. For example, your older employees will need better lighting and bigger and clear text for written content. They may also need machinery that can reduce the physical exertion required to perform a certain task.


Whether you are the employer or worker, and no matter if you are a young or older employee, everyone must work together. This is essential in ensuring musculoskeletal issues, as well as other injuries and diseases are prevented as efficiently as possible in the workplace.