4,000 injuries per week: ACTU

WORK STRAIN is estimated to contribute to as many as 4,000 new injuries every week – or an injury every 2.5 minutes in Australian workplaces, according to the ACTU

WORK STRAIN is estimated to contribute to as many as 4,000 new injuries every week – or an injury every 2.5 minutes in Australian workplaces, according to the ACTU.

There is an emerging body of research that links work strain to an increasing incidence of headaches, chronic muscle tension and pain, ACTU president Sharan Burrow said.

The research shows that work strain worsens existing musculoskeletal disorders and creates other health problems, she said, and affects large numbers of people in industries traditionally not associated with big health and safety risks.

“Call centre workers, nurses, teachers, office and retail workers are increasingly the victims of work strain injury as well as people in more traditional high risk jobs in manufacturing, construction, transport and distribution,” she said.

“The research shows that the key factors in work strain are excessive workloads, long hours, job insecurity, and a lack of control over one’s work in combination with physical aspects such as lifting and carrying loads, poor posture, and exertion.”

Speaking at a campaign launch to reduce work strain among people with high pressure jobs, Burrow said common symptoms of work strain include neck and shoulder pain, stabbing pain in the arms and wrist, pins and needles, aching legs and feet, tension headaches and exhaustion.

Sprains, strains and musculoskeletal disorders account for more than half (54 per cent) of all workplace injuries, and often build up over time, causing chronic pain and disability, she said.

“Employers are resisting efforts to reduce the strain of intense and high pressure work practices despite studies which show a strong link between stress and chronic physical pain.”

Burrow called on more employers to voluntarily adopt safer work practices that deal with the whole work environment and said harsher penalties should be imposed for those putting employees at risk of injuries or illness.

The comments came on the heels of research from WorkCover, which found that 1,300 employees are currently on stress leave in South Australia – with more on the way as bosses demand more from their employees.

Teachers, police and prison officers are the most stressed, with about 20 per cent of compensation payouts going to workers in these occupations.

WorkCover said work pressure, occupational violence and harassment were the most common reasons employees put in claims, which have totalled almost $17 million in compensation for lost income and medical bills.

Increasing stress would lead to more family breakdowns, Ombudsman Gary Collis cautioned. “While we continue to focus on productivity or increasing our competitiveness and, thereby, creating an unhealthy intensity of work, we are going to see more stress claims and of course they take up the greater cost,” he said.

“The hidden costs of all these stress claims are the families and friends because when you’re on WorkCover for stress it has an impact on everybody.”

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