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3 proactive tips for preventing common workplace injuries

Person under stress due to workplace injury

Each year thousands of Australians suffer a work related injury that either causes them to miss time at work or diminishes their ability to carry out their role effectively. Safe Work Australia estimates that these injuries cost roughly $60 billion to the Australian economy.[1] Now that’s a lot of sick days (not to mention the sickies you chuck when the surf is up…) Not only that, but the way you carry out your job could be causing ongoing damage to your body that will eventually become painful, without you even knowing it. When most people think of workplace injuries, they think of one off accidents or injuries caused by repetition at physically demanding jobs. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With more people than ever working physically inactive jobs, many workplace injuries and illnesses are a result of poor posture, repetitive awkward movements and failing to identify aches and pains correctly to begin with.

With these tips you will be able to identify common workplace injuries and overuse problems, put in place proactive structures to avoid them and know when to see your local physio for further treatment.

Redesign your desk space

You’ve probably heard the term ‘ergonomic’ thrown around a lot in the last few years. There’s ergonomic keyboards, mouse pads, chairs, desks, pens, pencils, cups, water bottles, scissors and I bet somewhere somebody is trying to market ergonomic toilet paper to someone. Australians spend millions of dollars a year on ergonomically designed products that have no scientific facts behind them. Yep, you read that right. Most products are baloney. At its core, ergonomics is the study of how humans fit into their work environment. No fancy ergonomic pencils required. In fact, the most effective and proven ergonomic changes to your workspace don’t involve any new products at all. While people tend to focus on the type of chair they have, they tend to overlook how they hold their bodies while performing their work. For example, correcting your trunk position (or the position you end up in within that fancy chair), sitting with your body closer to your desk, having relaxed and symmetrical shoulders and feet flat on the ground can make a positive difference to your workspace. Try a few different positions for your most used items focusing on those principles and you’ll find that sore neck may just disappear.

Lift with your head (not literally)

About 30% of all workplace injuries are caused by manual handling tasks. Manual handling includes anything that involves lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, restraining, throwing and carrying. Manual handling related injuries can be minimised by a thorough and effective assessment of the risks. I know it’s easy to ‘just do it’ when it comes to the work, but that is often a sure-fire way to end up injured. Ensure you fully evaluate the layout of the workspace, the location of the item, the weight of the item, the duration and frequency of the tasks and try to streamline as much of the process as you can. Ask yourself ‘does it have to be done this way?’ Just because heavy boxes have always been delivered onto a high counter top for distribution does not mean that’s the best way to do it. Using mechanical aides such as forklifts, conveyor belts and wheelbarrows may be a better alternative. The importance of training how to do the task properly can’t be overstated. Inexperienced workers are much more likely to suffer a manual handling injury than well trained workers.

Recreate the work tasks for your physio to observe

It can be difficult for your local physio to get an accurate idea of exactly how a movement is being performed and under what conditions. As a musculoskeletal physiotherapist I regularly observe, evaluate and recommend alterations to the techniques of sportspeople who carry out a range of repetitive and awkward movements. Why should work tasks be any different? If you can’t start ‘a bring your physio to work day’, take some photos of your work area, or have someone take photos or video of you performing your regular duties in a work environment. This will allow your physiotherapist to evaluate your body movements, work area and advise of any possible changes that could be made. Plus, you’ll be able to feel like a professional sportsperson having your movements evaluated and corrected for optimal health and wellbeing. But seriously, if you work in a pub and want to bring your physio to work… I’m down!

Work doesn’t have to be one of the biggest causes of injury to Australians. Many injuries can be reduced or removed through simple alterations to your environment and being more aware of how you hold your body. A musculoskeletal therapist is perfectly trained to make these observations and give you the personalised tips to be able to go home every day happy and healthy. Without any of the gimmicks.

[1] https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/statistics-and-research/cost-injury-and-illness-occupation

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