By Andrew Hobbs
WE ARE getting better at preventing workplace injuries – but when our workers hurt themselves, they really hurt themselves, according to the latest data from Safe Work Australia (SWA).
One thing that remains constant is the most common type of injury, with 43 per cent of all workers’ compensation claims in the 2015-16 financial year being for injuries to joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons.
Data released by SWA in its Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics 2015-16 report showed the rate of claims where more than one week of absence from work was recorded had fallen to 104,770 in 2015-16, equal to 5.6 claims per million hours worked.
This compared favourably to the 110,280 serious claims recorded in 2014-15, at a rate of 6.0 injuries per million hours worked and the 133,045 claims recorded in 2000-01, 9.5 per every million hours worked.
SWA reported that body stressing, caused by manual tasks ranging from lifting, sustaining postures and using repetitive movements, was the most common mechanism of injury – responsible for 41,190 or 39.3 per cent of claims in 2015-16.
Despite this, the number of these injuries had fallen 23 per cent since 2000-01, when it was the cause of 58,175 of the 133,045 claims recorded that year.
Good news, bad news
While the good news is that the number of injuries has fallen, the bad news is that the median time lost for a serious claim rose 33 per cent between 2000-01 and 2014-15, up from 4.2 working weeks to 5.6 weeks, while the median compensation paid also rose during the period, up 30 per cent from $5,200 to $6,800 – adjusted for wage inflation.
The median amount of time off for traumatic joint, ligament, muscle and tendon injuries has risen over time from 4.1 weeks off in 2000-01 to 5.0 weeks in 2014-15, while the average amount of compensation funds paid has risen 87%, from $5,300 in 2000-01 to $9,900 in 2014-15.
Prevention is better than cure
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia Professional Affairs Board Chair Stephen Hehir told Health & Safety Bulletin that the challenge for companies was to minimise repetitive activities at work, saying that this was a major contributor to the injury rate.
“It is the repetition of lifting – if a worker is doing 10 lifts a minute, even of 10-15kg, you are going to break [your workers],” he said.
“You might train them to keep their backs straight and to do all these postural things, but over a period of time, they are still going to break – and that is the problem,” he said.
The best way for companies to avoid this is to not only acquire a mechanical aid for lifting, but also making it readily available and easy to use – noting that many employees would bypass such tools for the sake of convenience.
“If you put some kind of mechanisation in there, or you eliminate the lift altogether, you have got a much better chance of having uninjured employees at the end of the day,” he said.
Of course, you should always remember to provide training to your workers whenever you introduce a new piece of equipment into the workplace, to ensure it will be used safely.