Safe Work Australia has published a new report on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), in which it criticises an over-reliance on administrative controls to manage risks, including lifting technique training and stretching.
The Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders in Australia report outlines current knowledge of WMSD hazards and risk factors, including psychosocial hazards, statistics on incidence and impact, and a review of workplace interventions in Australia and internationally.
Musculoskeletal disorders includes a wide range of inflammatory and degenerative conditions affecting the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, peripheral nerves and supporting blood vessels. WMSDs are the most common type of work-related injury in Australia, accounting for 55 per cent of all serious workers’ compensation claims in 2015-16.
SWA says a growing body of evidence supports the need to use multilevel or multimodal interventions that target multiple hazards at once, across different levels in the system.
It suggests there is a need for significant changes in practice to shift the emphasis from single-focus strategies aimed at changing behaviour, to more comprehensive approaches which take into account all aspects of an individual’s work.
“Rather than teaching someone how to lift, a more effective approach is training how to identify hazards and risks that they might be exposed to, and strategies to report and develop controls to address them,” the report says.
“This involves worker participation, a process in risk prevention that is well supported by research as an effective strategy to improve workplace risk management.”
The report suggests there is a range of barriers that impede the successful implementation of WMSD interventions:
- Failure to adopt a ‘systems’ approach to risk management
- Inadequate adherence to the hierarchy of risk control
- A lack of management commitment, organisation culture and climate
- Limited worker participation
- A poor understanding of relevant legislation, codes of practice and related documents.
Conversely, key enablers to successful WMSD interventions included having appropriate management support, high levels of worker participation, and accurate hazard identification.
Reflecting on the current state of current knowledge of WMSD prevention, one study participant suggested that, compared to 20 years ago, the problem is “not a gap in knowledge but rather difficulty in achieving senior management ‘buy-in’ to support evidence-based strategic approaches.”