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The goal of this blog is to provide useful information on empowering your workers back to full productive health and pre-injury duties as quickly as possible; and to ensure you are empowered with new health strategies to manage workplace risks and prevent injuries.

Ergonomics in the Workplace – Why it Matters


The Economic Cost of Workplace Injuries 

We often see billion-dollar numbers in the media, but rarely consider the magnitude of what’s being read. For example, Australia’s defense spending was $32.4 billion in 2016. At $61.8 billion, workplace injuries and illness costs are nearly double the amount spent on our country’s defense. Those are some serious figures - particularly when preventative solutions are available for a fraction of the cost.

The Human Cost of Workplace Injuries 

While the economic cost of injury and illness is the primary driver for implementing prevention programs, it’s also important to consider the human cost. Lost-time injuries can cause pain, suffering, stress and anxiety - and each of these consequences can actually exacerbate the original injury, delaying the recovery process. Invariably, other employees are also affected by changes in the environment and their workload. 

A National Priority 

Safe Work Australia identified musculoskeletal disorders as a priority in its report “Australian Strategy 2012 to 2022.” It should come as no surprise - the statistics are compelling: 

- Musculoskeletal disorders account for 60% of serious injury claims. 
- Median lost-time due to musculoskeletal injuries increased 35% between 2000 and 2013. 
- Average claim costs rose by 59% between 2000 and 2013. 

In short, the problem is getting worse, not better. 

The Crucial Role of Ergonomics 

Most people think of workplace injuries as resulting from a specific incident. Indeed, people tend to report an injury at the point when they first begin to experience significant pain. However, in many cases, tissue damage accumulates over time. 

Poor ergonomics leads to muscular fatigue, postural changes, discomfort, and then, eventually, to musculoskeletal injury and significant pain. Just as smoking a packet of cigarettes each day may not cause immediate health problems, performing work tasks in sub-optimal ways is unlikely to cause an injury instantly. It is the cumulative effect of our habits over time that is so destructive. 

Ergonomic Injury Risk Factors 

The first step to better workplace health is to understand what places an individual at risk. 

Job/environmental risk factors include: 
- Highly repetitive tasks.
- Static or repetitive awkward postures. 
- Forceful exertions, e.g., heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, etc. 
- Poor workstation design / equipment. 
- Cold temperatures. 
- Vibration. 

Jobs with multiple ergonomic risk factors are associated with a higher incidence of musculoskeletal disorders. 

Personal risk factors include:
- Poor work habits 
At an individual level, the primary risk factor is the adoption of poor work habits. For example, maintaining poor posture, using suboptimal lifting/pushing/pulling techniques or failing to take (short) breaks / rotate tasks. 

- Lifestyle/health 
Lifestyle factors, such as lower physical fitness, smoking, obesity and poor sleep may also play a role; these are independent risk factors for occupational injuries. Psychological health, too, can influence posture and movement patterns, potentially exacerbating the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. Best practice injury prevention programs should always consider and address psychosocial factors.

Prevention is the Key

The old adage rings true in relation to workplace injuries – prevention is better than cure. Even when there is no lost time, research suggests that simply the presence of musculoskeletal symptoms may result in lowered productivity. 

We know that there are clearly defined injury risk factors, so it’s obviously wise to invest in offsetting these. Smart companies build multifaceted injury prevention programs – they reduce job risk factors through task analyses and careful process re-engineering; and they ameliorate personal risk factors through individualised ergonomic assessments, equipment tailoring, customised training / education, and health (including psychological health) promotion programs. 

By addressing the ergonomic risk factors, in a manner tailored to each worker, a business can reduce the incidence of injuries and illness in its workforce. This not only slices direct costs, but leaves the enterprise with healthier, happier, and more productive employees.


Resources & References: 

Hagberg M, Wigaeus Tornqvist E, Toomingas A. Selfreported reduced productivity due to musculoskeletal symptoms: associations with workplace and individual factors among white-collar computer users. J Occup Rehabil 2002;12:151 –162. 

Lewis RJ, Krawiec M, Confer E, et al. Musculoskeletal disorder compensation costs and injuries before and after an office ergonomics program. Int J Ind Ergonomics 2002; 29:95–99 

Viikari-Juntura E, Martikainen R, Luukkonen R, et al. Longitudinal study on work related and individual risk factors affecting radiating neck pain. Occup Environ Med 2001;58:345 –352 

Wahlstrom, J. (2005). Ergonomics, musculoskeletal disorders and computer work. Occup Med (2005) 55 (3): 168-176. 

Westgaard RH, Winkel J. Ergonomic intervention research for improved musculoskeletal health: a critical review. Int J Ind Ergonomics 1997;20:463–500. 

https://www.iwh.on.ca/msd-prevention 

http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/974/Statistics%20on%20Work-Related%20Musculoskeletal%20Disorders.pdf 

 https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/identifyprobs.html
 

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Why Every Business Needs a Mental Health Program

In recent years there has been a shifting emphasis in health care towards proactive, preventative initiatives. Workplace health programs - typically encouraging staff to eat well, move more and maintain a healthy weight - have become more or less ubiquitous in large companies, as decision-makers have recognised their value in enhancing employee health, safety, engagement and productivity. Yet, for many businesses, there is a still a deafening silence when discussions inevitably turn to mental health. 

Mental Health is a Serious Issue for Workplaces

The new millennium ushered in a wave of research into mental health at work. A 2014 paper by beyondblue titled “State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia” emphasised the significant need for workplace mental health programs. Among the critical findings were:
 
• 45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition within their lifetime

• Only 52% believe their workplace is mentally healthy, while 91% believe mental health in the workplace is important.

• One-fifth (21%) of Australians have taken time off work in the past year due to feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or otherwise mentally unwell. This figure more than doubles to 46% among employees who consider their workplace to be mentally unhealthy.

Why Aren’t Businesses Addressing Mental Health?

Despite these statistics, many businesses have been slow to adopt mental health programs for their employees. Some of the cited reasons include: 

• Misperceptions about how cost-effective interventions can be.

• Lack of understanding about the direct and indirect costs of mental illness.

• A tendency to avoid the topic due to social stigma.  

However, there are a multitude of reasons why these programs should be implemented, as they can significantly benefit both employees and employers. 

Understanding Mental Health Costs

When considering the financial case for implementing workplace mental health programs, it is easier to measure certain metrics than others. There are direct costs (such as the cost of compensation claims), which can be assigned a firm number, and indirect costs (such as reduced productivity) which are more difficult to measure. While the direct cost are considerable, multiple studies have concluded that the indirect costs greatly exceed the direct.  

Compensation Claims

Few realise that mental illness is the largest single cause of disability in Australia, accounting for 24% of the burden of non-fatal disease. From a business standpoint, preventative strategies are essential, as mental health compensation claims tend to result in longer periods off work and significantly greater costs than physical claims. Furthermore, mental illness often impacts younger workers - those in their prime working years. The total annual compensation cost to business owners in Australia is estimated to be around $146 million; however, given that mental health is also a contributing factor in many physical injury claims, this figure could actually be much higher. 

Absenteeism

Absenteeism attributable to mental health costs Australian employers approximately $4.7 billion per year, equivalent to 1.2 million working days. It’s an astonishing figure, yet the link between absenteeism and mental illness is undeniable. Importantly, employees who consider their workplace to be mentally healthy are far less likely to take time away from work. The Health and Productivity Institute found that the implementation of a workplace health program typically results in an approximately 25% decrease in the rate of absenteeism. 

Productivity

While absenteeism skyrockets in response to mental illness, it still doesn't account for the true cost. It is common for employees with mental health issues to continue to show up for work, especially if they are concerned with being stigmatised. However, there can be a large decrease in productivity, due to an inability to concentrate. For example, individuals with depression report that they lose on average approximately 5.6 hours of productive time every week. This is termed 'presenteeism' and the estimated annual cost to business owners for this lost productivity is $6.1 billion. Fortunately, with treatment and a supportive environment, presenteeism can be drastically reduced. 

Other Mental Health Considerations

The total cost of absenteeism, compensation claims and lost productivity is around $11 billion, but there are still other factors that businesses should consider, such as:

• Turnover costs

• Effects on other employees

• Management costs

While the costs are difficult to quantify, few would deny that these issues are all real and significant concerns. 

The ROI on Mental Health Programs

While it is clear that there are benefits to offering workplace mental health programs, every business wants to know ultimate impact on the bottom line. A 2014 report demonstrated that for every dollar invested in creating a mentally healthy working environment, approximately $2.30 is generated in benefits for the company. So, while implementing a mental health initiative is obviously the right thing to do for employees, the data confirms that it is also a savvy financial decision. 

References: 

beyondblue. (2014). State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia. Retrieved December 19, 2016 from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8 

American Psychiatric Foundation. (2006). A Mentally Healthy Workforce-It’s Good for Business. Retrieved December 19, 2016 from http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/Business-Case/The-Business-Case-Brochure.aspx?FT=.pdf 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts. (2015). Bad for Business: The Business Case for Overcoming Mental Illness Stigma in the Workplace. Retrieved December 19, 2016 from  http://ceos.namimass.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/BAD-FOR-BUSINESS.pdf 

Heads up. (2015, January 23). The financial cost of ignoring mental health in the workplace. Retrieved December 20 from https://www.headsup.org.au/news/2015/01/23/the-financial-cost-of-ignoring-mental-health-in-the-workplace 

Kirkright, S. (n.d.). Invest in workplace mental health and wellbeing programs. Business First Magazine. Retrieved December 20, 2016 from http://www.businessfirstmagazine.com.au/mental-health-awareness-month/2504/ 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts. (2015). Bad for Business: The Business Case for Overcoming Mental Illness Stigma in the Workplace. Retrieved December 19, 2016 from  http://ceos.namimass.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/BAD-FOR-BUSINESS.pdf


 

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Three Stretches to Do at Your Desk Right Now

Many of us spend the majority of our day working at a computer, which poses significant challenges to our musculosketelal system. Neck, shoulder, arm, and wrist complaints are common among office workers, so it's important to implement regular stretch breaks to reduce the risk of injury.  

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Pre-Employment Health Assessments: Do they work?

Can best-practice pre-employment medical assessments be the basis of front-line risk assessment of your most vital asset; your people? 

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