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Prevent musculoskeletal injuries and support safe return to work through good work design

By Anna Nicholls, Director and Occupational Therapist, North Queensland Therapy Services

Anna recently presented a workshop at the North Queensland Work Well Conference to assist employers set up an effective on-site ergonomic program.

Best practice

Ergonomics and redesign are the best way to manage and control the risk factors than can cause musculoskeletal injuries and support safe return to work.

Engage workers in the process and apply their expert knowledge to make improvements to reduce the risks in their roles (this is known as participative ergonomics).

Why this is important

Employers may invest considerable time and money getting people with a musculoskeletal injury back to work.

The rehabilitation and return to work coordinator plays an important role in engaging with workers to:

  • identify the hazard that caused the workplace injury
  • implement controls to prevent re-injury and re-aggravation of injuries, before the injured worker returns.

Your toolkit

Useful tools to assist you to manage and control the risks of musculoskeletal injuries include:

  1. Discomfort surveys – identifies high risk jobs that people find difficult to carry out, or that are uncomfortable. These is a great first step in a workplace ergonomics program. For best results, be explicit about what you are looking for and allow anonymous responses to encourage uptake.
  2. PErforM (Participative ergonomics for manual tasks) – PErforM workshops are a great group activity to stimulate and encourage conversation about improvements and changes. If your workers feel like they are being consulted and considered as part of the solution, they are more likely to adopt the necessary changes. Workers may report positive flow on effects for efficiency and managing workloads as a result of learning how to analyse the risks and working together to develop solutions.
  3. Ergoanalyst – an e-software program that provides analysis and images of the bodily risk factors for different tasks. The risk factor will change from RED (high risk) to GREEN (low risk), once a solution has been found. Ergoanalyst also includes a range of ‘Before’ and ‘After’ examples that can be applied across many industries.

Anna said, “When visiting a worksite, I use my observation and communication skills to engage with the worker and employer; a tape measure; and a force gauge and the camera on my phone to collect objective data that I compare to industry standards. Consider seeking assistance from a competent provider with specialist skills in this area to kick-start your ergonomic program.”

Other useful resources include:

Hazardous manual tasks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.38 MB)

Darcor’s White Paper: The Ergonomics of Manual Material Handling – Pulling and Pushing Tasks

Practical Demonstrations of Ergonomic Principles

EMESRT - Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table to accelerate development and adoption of leading practice designs to minimise health and safety risks related to operating and maintaining earth moving equipment.

WorkSafe Victoria’s information on choosing and using trolleys

Supervisors and risk management – a case study in the manufacturing industry (PDF, 1.19 MB)

The link between MSDs and psychosocial risk factors