Back and neck injury claims are the most common injuries in the workplace.  They are very costly and some never heal. 

Back and neck injuries usually come in the form of sprains and strains – they are commonly caused by slips, falls, bad lifting and repetitive work. 

Manufacturing and construction have the highest number of sprain injuries, followed by transport services and agriculture.  For example, in 2010-11, 46% of compensated claims made by employees in the retail trade industry were the result of strains and sprains. 

How can these types of injuries be avoided?  Set out below are seven ways to help your business avoid employee back and neck injuries.

1. Understand your obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act

The first thing you need to understand is the Work Health and Safety Act. Under this Act, employers and self-employed persons must:

  • identify and manage risks in the workplace;
  • consult with workers on health and safety;
  • provide safe systems of work;
  • ensure that equipment and substances are used safely; and
  • provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision in relation to health and safety matters.

Breaches of the Act can result in significant penalties.   

Under workers compensation laws as long as there is a significant connection between the injury and the workplace an employer will be liable for the injury. 

2. Conduct Workplace Inspections

Inspect your workplace and pay particular attention to:

  • floors;
  • stairs;
  • lighting;
  • tasks;
  • personal protective equipment;
  • housekeeping, cleanliness and cleaning methods;
  • variation in conditions at different times of the day.

3. Identify the Risk Factors

Some neck and back injuries are caused by subtle movement over time.  Identify the following risk factors:

  • force;
  • repetition;
  • work posture.

More specifically

The layout of the workstation – reaching too high or too low can create awkward working postures and this can lead to injuries. 

Environmental conditions of the workplace—for example, cold temperatures or drafts reduce blood flow to the hands and arms, requiring more grip force.

Organization of work tasks—for example, if somebody is performing the same task all day every day they are more likely to be injured.

Neck and back injuries can also sometimes be caused by slips and falls.In the Comcare (federal insurer) scheme, the six most common objects or circumstances that were directly involved with the cause of an injury from slips and falls of a person during 2010–11 were:

  • external traffic and other ground surfaces—including roads, paths, uneven ground, etc (22%);
  • steps and stairways (9%);
  • trucks, semi-trailers and lorries (5%);
  • wet, oily or icy external traffic and ground surfaces (5%);
  • external buildings and other structures (5%);
  • wet, oily or icy internal traffic and ground surfaces (5%).

4. Consult with your employees

Consultation with workers, health and safety committee (HSC) members, health and safety representatives (HSRs) or worker representatives may highlight any potential ‘hot spots’ within the organisation. Workers can identify issues relating to:

  • the design and layout of work areas;
  • activities in the work area;
  • normal and informal procedures for carrying out specific tasks;
  • public and staff access.

5. Implement a workplace health management system

A WHS management system is critical to the first stage (hazard identification) and last stage (monitor and review) of the risk management cycle. In the first stage, the WHS management system can provide data to set benchmarks on the current level of performance. Injury and incident reports and workers’ compensation data can help to identify:

  • the history of slips and trips in the workplace;
  • where the incidents occurred;
  • the source or reasons for the incidents;
  • who is likely to be exposed.

6. Eliminate, Control or Mitigate the risks

Once the hazards or risks are identified you should make your best effort to:

  • Eliminating the hazard from the workplace entirely;
  • Substitute or modify the hazard in some way;
  • Keep staff away from the hazard;
  • Raise awareness of the hazard;
  • Provide staff with special safety gear.

7. Review the control/mitigation techniques

Obviously the proof will be in the pudding – if injuries are still occurring, you need to examine why the risk controls seem to be failing. If you’re in a need of legal advice and have had a workplace injury, call LegalVision today so advise you on your options.

Lachlan McKnight

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