Workplace injuries are a common occurrence in organisations of all kinds and sizes in Australia, and many are still not doing enough to prevent them from happening in the first place.
In addition to the physical and mental toll victims can suffer, workplace injuries can prove to be a massive drain on businesses’ costs and productivity. According to Safe Work Australia, work-related injuries cost the Australian economy around $60 billion every year, representing almost 5 per cent of the nation’s GDP.
Additionally, roughly three quarters of these costs are incurred by the employees themselves, while the wider community accounts for 20 per cent and employers take up the rest.
So just how are these workers getting injured, and what are the most common types of injuries found in Australian workplaces today?
Based on the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Safe Work Australia’s Compendium of Workers’ Compensation Statistics, we’ve listed the top 10 most common work-related injuries in the country, and outlined some steps than can be taken to avoid them.
1. Sprains and strains
According to Safe Work Australia, sprains and strains of joints and muscles make the vast majority of workplace injuries in the country, comprising 41.8 per cent of all incidents.
These are most often caused by poor manual handling practices, either due to habits that weren’t fixed or improper OHS training. Workers that are required to bend and move their bodies to lift, carry or push heavy items are at serious risk of straining their muscles.
You should always use proper lifting techniques, which involve keeping your back straight, bending at the knees and using the strength from your knees and legs to lift. Keep the item close to your body at all times, and don’t attempt to move an object if it is beyond your physical strength to do so.
It can also be good practice to stretch properly and limber up before carrying out heavy manual tasks, to give your muscles a chance to relax and prepare for action.
Bone fractures and crushing are the second most common workplace injury in Australia, making up 8.5 per cent of incidents.
Regardless of the severity of the fracture, these injuries can keep an employee out of work for weeks and even months. Usually they are caused by workers tripping and falling, or getting a limb trapped in a moving part of machinery.
You should ensure you are wearing suitable footwear for the job to reduce the risk of falling and hurting yourself, and wear adequate protective gear such as hard hats. However, the best way to reduce fracture injuries is to change the work environment itself, for example by keeping hazards such as loose cables, objects and spills off the floor.
Any hazardous machinery should have the proper safeguards in place to prevent inappropriate access and the risk of trapping a worker.
3. Open wound
Open wound injuries excluding amputation are next on the list, claiming 7.7 per cent of workplace injuries.
If you work with sharp tools and machinery as part of your job, make sure you have taken the relevant OHS training courses so you know how to operate them safely. You should also wear protective clothing that sufficiently covers the parts of your body exposed to the hazardous objects.
Also keep an eye out for any rusty items that can pierce your skin and cause serious infection. If you find such items lying around your workplace, you should alert your supervisor immediately so they can address the situation.
Contusion is the medical term for bruises, and skin injuries that don’t involve open wounding make up 6.4 per cent of workplace incidents.
Like fractures, bruising is most commonly caused by impact resulting from falls and being struck by an object. Machinery with large moving parts that have the potential to hurt a worker should be well maintained so they are working correctly, and employees should be properly trained on using such equipment so they don’t injure themselves unnecessarily.
5. Tissue disorders
Disorders involving muscles, tendons and soft tissue represent 6.3 per cent of all workplace injury claims in Australia.
This is commonly caused by overexertion or repeating a movement incorrectly for long periods, meaning it can be some time before you notice any symptoms. However, you should take measures to prevent these developing in the first place.
Try not to repeat the same action for extended periods of time as this can have a strain on your tissue in the long run. Mix up your day with other tasks too, and take regular breaks to give your body a rest.
Dorsopathies, or spinal injuries, are responsible for 6 per cent of work-related injuries.
Usually this is a result of poor lifting putting undue pressure on the back, as mentioned under sprains and strains above, or from bad sitting posture. Therefore it is an injury that is pertinent to almost every type of employee, whether they work in a warehouse or sit at a desk all day.
Office workers should maintain a good sitting posture during work, keeping their back straight to their chair and avoiding slouching or leaning to one side for too long. Like tissue disorders, it can take some time before you notice any significant pain – by which time it is too late to prevent the injury and extensive treatment is required.
Industrial deafness from excessively loud equipment causes 3.6 per cent of work-related injuries.
Those who work with loud machinery as part of their job must make sure they have adequate hearing protection, such as industry-standard earmuffs. These should completely cover and form a vacuum around the ears, blocking out all external noise.
It’s also worthwhile checking the decibel (dB) level of the equipment you use to determine which will require higher levels of protection. Any sound over 85 dB has the ability to induce hearing loss, either gradually or instantly, depending on the level of the sound and how long the exposure is.
Hernias, making up 2.2 per cent of workplace injuries, are caused when internal organs break through the tissue holding them in place and can necessitate prolonged treatment.
While most hernia cases are due to genetics or pre-existing medical conditions, activities such as heavy lifting can exacerbate the situation. Take regular breaks from manual handling and lifting tasks, and if you notice pain or lumps in the abdominal area, stop immediately and seek medical advice.
Joint dislocation can be extremely painful and can happen at the most unexpected of times. They’re not the most common workplace injury however, making up 1.5 per cent of incidents.
They’re mostly caused by trips and falls and heavy contact, so keep the work environment as clutter-free possible to reduce the accident risk. Also note that if you dislocate a joint once, the chances of it occurring again in the future are increased, so you should take extra precaution to avoid suffering the same injury.
Burns are the least common individual form of work injury, making up just 1.4 per cent, but should still be taken seriously.
Make sure all equipment and substances that are capable of burning are clearly identified with warnings, and make sure anyone working with such items are wearing the appropriate protective clothing.
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