Musculoskeletal Injuries at Work: Causes & Claims

Did you know that the musculoskeletal injuries or ‘body stressing’ in workers is the most common type of workplace injury?

The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) revealed that from 2008 to 2011 musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 47% of all claims and cost businesses an average of $68,000 per injury.

So why are musculoskeletal injuries so common?

In this article we take a look at the different types of musculoskeletal injuries, the occupations most affected by such injuries, what can be done by way of prevention, as well as when an injured worker may be able to claim.

A musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) means an injury to, or a disease of, the musculoskeletal system, whether occurring suddenly or overtime. Some examples of a MSD include:

  • Sprains and strains on muscles, ligaments and tendons;
  • Back injuries, including damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, spinal discs, nerves, joints and bones;
  • Joint and bone injuries or degeneration, including injuries to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, ankle, hands and feet;
  • Nerve injuries or compression (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome);
  • Muscular and vascular disorder as a result of hand-arm vibration;
  • Soft tissue hernias; and
  • Chronic pain.

MSD’s can arise from a sudden exertion, or they can arise from making the same motions repeatedly or from repeated exposure to force, vibration, or awkward posture.

Sometimes MSD’s can occur due to a combination of both of these mechanisms. The most common type of MSD is back injuries followed by shoulder injuries, with the most common cause coming from the performing a hazardous manual task including:

  • Muscular stress while lifting, carrying or putting down objects;
  • Repetitive movement, low muscle loading; and
  • Muscular stress while handling objects.

According to the SRCC the occupations most likely to be effected by MSD are:

  • Clerical and administrative;
  • Machinery operators/drivers;
  • Technical and trades;
  • Professionals;
  • Labourers;
  • Community/personal service;
  • Manages;
  • Sales workers
So what are some of the ways employers can prevent MSD’s?

It has been suggested that one of the best things an organisation can do to mitigate injury risk is to implement role-specific pre-employment testing of workers.

This will assist in determining whether a potential employee can meet the physical demands required of the role. Other prevention methods that could be adopted by employers could include:

  • Allowing regular rest breaks, stretching and task rotation;
  • Providing good workplace ergonomics (including design and layout or the work area);
  • Identifying and eliminating any tasks that could give rise to an injury;
  • Providing information, training or instructions to employees.

If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, minimise the risk by implementing control measures such as:

  • Changing the workplace layout, the workplace environment or the systems of work;
  • Changing the objects used in the task; or
  • Using mechanical aids.

However the prevention of MSD’s at work does fall solely on the employer. Workers too have a general duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety.

Workers can assist in preventing a musculoskeletal injury by:

  • Using manual handling equipment properly;
  • Following workplace policies and procedures (e.g. using trolleys, team lifting);
  • Attending health and safety training; and
  • Not taking any shortcuts that could increase the risk of sustaining a musculoskeletal injury.

Employers have a primary duty of care to their employees to make the workplace safe. They must also provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment.

If they fail in this duty and an employee sustains an injury then they may be liable in negligence. Providing an injured person is a “worker” and that the personal injury they have suffered arose out of, or in the course of their employment then they should be entitled to receive compensation benefits from WorkCover Qld.

Whether an injured employee can make a common law claim for damages, often known as a Workers’ Compensation Claim, will depend upon the circumstances of how and why the injury occurred and whether there was anything that the employer could have done, as far as it was reasonably practicable, to prevent the injury.

Given the statistical data it appears that no employee in any industry or occupation is free from the risk of suffering a musculoskeletal injury.
While there are methods employers and employees can adopt to assist in preventing these types of injuries the reality of such is that sometimes injuries do occur. Whether or not an employee can make a claim for damages will depend upon the individual circumstances of the case.

Perhaps with greater awareness of the risks of sustaining a work-related MSD we will see a decline in the number of injuries suffered.

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