Top Cause of Worker Injury Claims revealed to be Sprains and Strains.

Sprains and Strains or Musculoskeletal injuries account for nearly 43% of all serious work-related injury claims in Australia. According to Safework Australia Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) are the most common condition for which workers’ compensation claims are currently lodged. Of these injuries, up to 10% are knee-related and up to 38% are back-related, making complex joints like the knees and back an injury hotspot, for workers.

Complex joints such as the knee, wrist, ankle, back etc. are made up of soft tissue such as ligaments and tendons that provide support and flexibility to the bones and surrounding muscle. Overstretching, damage, or tears to such tissue can result in a sprain or strain. Such injuries can be a one off incident or a series of incidents leading to chronic wear and tear injuries.

In Australia most musculoskeletal injuries can be accounted to Body Stressing, tasks or through impact injuries caused by a Slip, Trip or Fall. Body Stressing injuries account for 40.8% and Slips, Trips, Falls account for 20.9% of Sprain and Strain injuries.Workers who perform repetitive manual tasks or who are exposed to physical labour are at a high risk for Sprains and Strains. Industries like Contract Cleaning, Health Care, Aged Care, Manufacturing, Transport and Logistics, Warehousing and Construction are amongst the highest risk sectors for Sprains and Strains. According to Clean Start Contract Cleaners are only second to Concrete Construction Services.

Work-related factors are the primary causes of Sprains and Strains at work. Manufacturing workers have a very high incident rate due to muscular stress while lifting, carrying or putting down objects repeatedly, while Construction workers’ injuries are often due to repetitive movements and low muscle loading. While body stressing causes the vast majority of sprains and strains, slips trips and falls, or impact injuries can also result in significant tissue damage. Slippery surfaces, sharp or moving machinery and falls from heights can all contribute to WMSDs
Individual Factors such as age, overall health, and training also tend to influence WMSDs. Sprains and Strain incidences rise with age, to peak in the 40-44 age group.

Employers and OHS professionals can take several steps to reduce the risk of WMSDs for workers.

Ergonomic Solutions
– Using the right positioning, or raising work off the floor eliminating the need to work
– Tools and Equipment designed to perform work without requiring the worker to kneel or bend for eg. Rolling Stools, Tool Extensions.
– Choosing less impact-full and rough surfaces to perform work on when possible, and taking small breaks to relieve stress on the knee.
PPE Solutions
– Choosing Cushioning barriers like kneeling pads, knee pads or portable cushions to reduce impact on the knees.
– Correct cleaning and fitting of kneepads and other PPE to provide optimum comfort and protection.
Other Solutions
– Use ladders and supports to descend or ascend from heights, avoiding jumping and impact
– Wearing correct footwear on slippery oily or rough surfaces to avoid trip and falls.
– Rostering work time to avoid long periods of squatting, kneeling and/or bending for any one worker.
– Maintaining a healthy weight and strengthening the leg-muscles, back muscles or muscles surrounding the knee.

The use of PPE is considered the last line of defence against WMSDs. Used correctly ergonomic PPE such as Back Supports, Knee Pads and Kneeling pads can provide support cushioning and serve as a reminder to use correct bending lifting or kneeling techniques.

Are unacclimatised FIFO and DIDO workers at a higher risk for dehydration and heat stress illnesses?

Fly in Fly out (FIFO) and Drive in Drive out (DIDO) workers form a significant part of the Australian industrial workforce. Often travelling long distances frequently to tough, hot environments can increase environmental heat stress. Studies show that a worker performing heavy manual work in the heat can take up to 10 days or more to safely adapt to the work conditions1.

In hot humid conditions, workers can sweat 1-2 litres of sweat, and in the process lose fluid as well as important nutrients like electrolytes. Consumption of diuretics and soft drinks can further exacerbate the problem by increasing frequency of urination. Replacing fluid and electrolytes like sodium is important to keep the worker hydrated and prevent symptoms of dehydration like lack of co-ordination, low reaction time, fatigue, dizziness and headaches. Excessive sweating also reduces the body’s ability to cool down, increasing risk of increased core body temperature and heat illnesses. Not replacing this fluid loss can crease risk of injury, reduce productivity and cause long-term health problems.

Heat Accclimatisation is the body’s natural coping mechanism for adaptation to changes in environmental temperatures. Studies show that a fully acclimatized worker loses less sodium in sweat and is at lower risk of fluid imbalances2. A variety of factors including, rosters, shift lengths, regional or seasonal climatic changes and job role changes can affect acclimatization levels in the workplace.

Studies show that acclimatised workers have higher levels of productivity than unacclimatised workers, and have higher thirst sensations, helping them consume more fluid to stay hydrated. It is recommended that a comprehensive approach to managing thermal hazards at the workplace, take acclimatization into account for reduced risks, higher productivity and safe working conditions for workers.

A sodium enhanced drink, which is low in carbohydrates, can help workers replace fluid and electrolyte losses. Electrolyte drinks like Sqwincher are available in both sugar and sugar free options and are formulated for higher palatability to help increase fluid consumption.

“For the first two weeks I was in hospital three times. I wasn’t drinking enough water; I was only consuming 600mL of water a day. I was severely dehydrated. I had cramps, headaches and I felt drained and run down. I was losing lots of salt as well, my clothes started turning white and I started getting rashes. I had to go on a saline drip when I was in hospital. I was about to head home because I wasn’t surviving up there, however, I was recommended to use an electrolyte replacement drink called Sqwincher®. Sqwincher® really saved my life. ” Stephan Thelan, Mine Site Worker, Port Hedland, Western Australia

Sources –

1 Sweat Rate and sodium loss during work in the heat by Graham P Bates and Veronica S Miller

2 A quantitative method for aseessing the impact of acclimatisation in the workplace by Rick Brake – Principal Consultant , Mine Ventilation Australia