Reducing the strain

Back pain

Musculoskeletal injuries make up 53% of work injuries in mining

Did you know that musculoskeletal injuries are the cause of over half of all workers’ compensation claims received each year in Queensland?

In the mining industry, musculoskeletal injuries (for example muscle sprains/strains and back injuries) make up over 53% of all injuries, with 770 new claims lodged in the 2014-15 financial year.

The cost of these claims during that period was over $13 million at an average of $12,847 per claim.

WorkCover Queensland Customer Service Manager (Mining), Matt Cross said 32% of musculoskeletal injuries were back-related, while shoulder/upper arm (18%) and knee/upper leg (17.9%) were the next most common injuries.

“The 40-50 year old age group was most affected by musculoskeletal claims (29%), while those in the 30-40 year age bracket contributed over 27% of claims,” Matt added.

“On average, workers have 56 days off work to recover from this type of injury. With an average claim cost of $13,503 in the 40-50 year age group, there is evidence to indicate they take longer to recover and require more treatment and time off work than other age groups.”

“While it is not surprising that musculoskeletal injuries make up the majority of claims due to the manual handling nature of many occupations, there are steps that employers and workers can take to prevent these injuries.”

Top three causes and prevention

“The top three most common causes of musculoskeletal injuries are lifting, carrying or putting down objects, falls and repetitive movement or strain,” Matt said.

“One way an employer can minimise and eliminate these injuries is to develop and implement an effective risk assessment approach.”

Some mine sites have introduced a few initiatives that have had a positive influence on the physical health of their workers.  These include:

  • An on-site physiotherapist for both work related and non-work related injury treatment
  • Healthy worker initiatives to encourage improved fitness and health and wellbeing
  • Stretching and exercise before and after each shift.

Getting better at work

While workers’ compensation claims have been falling, WorkCover data shows only 84% of those who sustain a musculoskeletal injury return to work.

Dr Graeme Edwards, ‎Senior Consultant Physician in Occupational and Environmental Medicine – ‎Work & Health Risk Management, says it is important to remember that the availability of suitable duties critically depends on the employer, not the doctor.

“With a physical injury, suitable duties requires consideration of the injured worker’s physical abilities matched to the physicality of task requirements and the workplace environment,” he said.

“A ‘return to work contingency plan’ addresses not only the physical task requirements, but also the perceptions of both the individual and their immediate supervisor. This establishes an agreed action plan to be followed in various circumstances.”

Dr Edwards said the plan is designed to enhance or improve the worker’s confidence, resilience and capacity, while at the same time, reducing the risk of relapse.

Additionally, the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians' position statement, 'Realising the health benefits of work’, indicates work plays an important role in any rehabilitation process because 'doing' promotes recovery.

If a person is off work for:

  • 20 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 70 per cent
  • 45 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 50 per cent
  • 70 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 35 per cent.

“By understanding the role of the doctor and the employer, together we can make a difference,” Dr Edwards said.

“Because for a significant proportion of these people, they still have some capacity to work and may even be better off at work.”

For more information, contact WorkCover Queensland on 1300 362 128.

Last updated
01 June 2017