Management Essay, Research Paper
In this report, I will be investigating the high risk and high cost of serious body stressing incidents in the Australian workforce. I will be researching to find what industry and occupation is most at risk, what age group and gender is most likely to be affected by body stressing, and the costs and consequences of body stressing in Australia. Body stressing by jurisdiction will also be included so that we can come to our own conclusion not just on a national scale.
Body stressing means manual handling, repetitive movement and maintenance of constrained or awkward postures .
Trends, risk and significance of body stressing
Body stressing in Australia makes up a big factor of compensated serious cases. Being associated with around 38% of all compensated serious cases each year and has remained fairly consistent throughout the years. During 1993-1994 (the latest period which data was available), there were over 54,000 serious work-related injury/disease cases. These cases all resulted in a fatality, permanent disability or non-permanent disability that caused 5 day or more time lost from work in Australia (excluding Victoria and the ACT).
There are more than 2 chances in 5 that an Australian worker will experience a serious work-related injury/disease, as a result of body stressing, during the course of his or her working life. These do not include the chances of workers experiencing a less serious accident. Of course, the probability of occurrence varies to factors such as age, the industry that he/she is employed in and his/her occupation.
Fig 1: – Probability a worker will experience serious injury/disease due to body stressing before he/she is 10 years older (chances in 100)
Fig 2: – Mechanism of injury/disease proportion or cases, 1991 V1992 to 1993-1994
Figure 2 shows the proportion of cases reported over the period 1991-1992 to 1993-1994 that were considered related to body stressing. The position with this type of occurrence has not changed greatly over this period. In 199394 Body stressing still accounted for around 38% of cases and nearly a half of the cases recorded were classed as Muscular stress while lifting, carrying, or putting down objects, a third were classed as Muscular stress while handling objects other than lifting carrying or putting down (which includes pushing or pulling objects, throwing or pressing objects and handling objects where muscle power is required), a little over one-tenth were classed as Muscular stress with no objects being handled (including bending down, reaching, turning, twisting and working in cramped or unchanging positions) and the remaining 6% were Repetitive movement, low muscle loading.
Fig 3: – Body stressing claims trend (number) compared to all other claims, Australia (excluding QLD, Vic and ACT)
Figure 3 shows the trend in Body stressing cases over the period 1991-92 to 1993-94 for all jurisdictions, except Qld, Vic and ACT. This indicates that Body stressing cases have increased steadily over this period. In fact, the regression line implies that they have been increasing by around 2,500 cases per year for these jurisdictions (which cover about 56% of Australian employees). This rate of increase for Body stressing cases is one and a half times the rate of increase for non-Body stressing cases. In other words, Australian OHS performance with respect to Body stressing appears to be deteriorating relative to other types of occurrences.
Age and gender of workers & body stressing
Figure 4 provides information on the distribution of Body stressing cases, by age, for 1993-94. The greatest number of cases involved workers in their thirties, who accounted for nearly 30% of occurrences. This is partly due to their higher representation in the workforce than other age groups (they constitute about 27% of the workforce) and a slightly higher susceptibility to these types of injuries/diseases than younger workers. As Figure 1 indicates, the age group most prone to Body stressing problems was the over 55 year olds. They experienced over 17% of occurrences, although they only represented approximately 8% of the working population. Workers in their forties also appear to have experienced more than their share of cases.
Fig 4: – Body stressing, number of cases by age, 1993-1994
Figure 5 shows, graphed against the left Y axis, the percentage of total working weeks lost due to Body stressing by age and, against the right Y axis, the average weeks lost per occurrence by age. This graph shows a steadily increasing average time lost per occurrence in line with increasing age. It also indicates that, in terms of working weeks lost, ages from the 30’s to mid 40’s experienced the most significant effects from Body stressing during 199394 (this, of course, would also be related to employment numbers within this age range).
Fig 5: – Body stressing, working weeks lost by age, 1993-1994
Approximately 68% of 1993-94 body stressing affected males and the remaining 32% affected the females and this ratio has remained relatively stable since 1991-92. Not only do men have a larger number of occurrence rate than females, male workers also have a higher levels of occurrence relative to the workforce size. Not surprisingly cause from my opinion, men tend to be most proud of there pride and avoiding body stressing is not so important to these men. Keeping in mind that men tend to have all the hard heavy labourers job compared to women who tends take up positions which requires less lifting work.
Nature of Injuries/Diseases Caused by Body stressing
The consequences of body stressing are most likely sprains and strains of joints and adjacent muscles. This type of occurrence after an accident is quite common and 4 out of 5 times, this will be prevailed.
The next most frequently occurring injury/disease was Disorders of muscle, tendons and other soft tissue. This disease of connective tissue in the musculoskeletal system includes disorders such as synovitis, tenosynovitis, bursitis and RSI.
Hernia, which is a weakness or defect in the abdominal wall, was involved in 4% of working weeks lost due to body stressing.
Body stressing by jurisdiction
There are a number of risk factors associated with Body stressing and a fairly consistent pattern of outcomes from it, to date, at the national level. A comparison of the prevalence of Body stressing problems across the various workers’ compensation jurisdictions provides the opportunity to identify differences and establish why they exist.
In some instances this can lead to recognition of best practices (eg standards beneficially adopted in one State/Territory and not in another). In other instances disparities will simply reflect differences in the mix of industries in the jurisdictions or in the treatment of claims by the compensation systems in place in the various jurisdictions, particularly in respect of diseases.
The information shown in Figures 6, 7 and 8 relates to the number of new cases reported, the number of cases per 1,000 workers in the jurisdiction, and the number of cases per million hours worked in the jurisdiction. They indicate that while NSW had the largest number of Body stressing occurrences, as a result of its larger workforce, other jurisdictions had proportionately higher numbers of occurrences given their respective workforce sizes. From this perspective, Body stressing appears to have been a particular problem for South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.
South Australia appears to have had particular problems in the Public Administration and Defence industry (with a rate and frequency of occurrence more than twice the national levels), Manufacturing industry (one and a half times the national levels) and the Construction industry (also one and a half times the national levels). Tasmania also had problems in the Manufacturing industry (with relative occurrences one and a half times the national levels). Queensland had high relative occurrences in the Manufacturing industry (40% higher than the national rate of occurrence level and 60% higher than the frequency of occurrence level) industry and Transport and Storage industry (about one and a quarter times the national levels).
Fig 6: – Comparison of body stressing injury numbers by selected jurisdictions, 1993-1994
Fig 7: – Comparison of body stressing injury rates by selected jurisdictions, 1993-1994
Comparison of body stressing injury frequencies by selected jurisdictions, 1993-1994
Industry, occupation and the body stressing
Workers in the Manufacturing, Transport and Storage, Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting, Construction and Mining industries have high probabilities of experiencing serious Body stressing related injuries/diseases over the course of their working lives (see figure 9). Workers in the Manufacturing industry experienced the highest number of cases at nearly a quarter of all occurrences, followed by Community Services (a little over a fifth of cases), Wholesale and Retail Trade (around an eighth) and Public Administration and Defence (8%).
Figures 10 and 11 provide a different perspective on the number of occurrences relative to workforce sizes. Manufacturing had the highest number of occurrences per 1,000 employees and also per million hours worked. Looking at the industry subdivisions within Manufacturing reveals that nearly a third of cases in Manufacturing occurred in the Food, Beverages and Tobacco industry subdivision, with well over half of these involving Trades assistants and factory hands, 15% involving Tradespersons and 12% affecting Plant and machine operators and drivers. Three other industry subdivisions within Manufacturing which collectively made up nearly a third of all Manufacturing cases, in approximately equal proportions, were Fabricated Metal Products, Transport Equipment and Wood, Wood Products and Furniture. The three occupations mentioned in respect of the Food, Beverages and Tobacco industry subdivision were also prominent here, although in slightly different relativities.
Transport and Storage had the second highest proportion of occurrences relative to the size of the workforce. Slightly over two-fifths of Body stressing cases in this industry occurred within the Road Transport industry subdivision. Approximately 70% of cases in this subdivision involved Plant and machine operators and drivers (over 90% of these affected truck and automobile drivers), while the remainder involved Labourers and related workers. The other significant subdivisions in Transport and Storage were Rail Transport and Air Transport which accounted for approximately a fifth of cases each, with about half the cases in each subdivision involving Labourers and related workers. Construction also had high proportions of occurrences relative to the size of the workforce. The General Construction subdivision (eg, house construction, non-residential building, road and bridge construction, etc) accounted for 58% of cases with the most affected occupation being Labourers and related workers (45% of cases) and Tradespersons (32%), most of the latter being Building tradespersons. The remaining cases in the Construction industry came from the Special Trade Construction subdivision (eg, concreting, bricklaying, plumbing and electrical work). The occupation most affected here was Tradespersons (57% of cases); the majority of these being Building tradespersons, although significant numbers of electrical tradespersons were also involved.
Fig 9: – Probability workers will experience serious injury/disease over their working life due to body stressing, by industry (chances in100)
Fig 10: – Body stressing rates of occurrence by industry, 1993-1994
Fig 11: – Body stressing frequencies of occurrence by industry, 1993-1994
The occupation of a worker has a significant bearing on the probability that he or she will experience a serious injury/disease caused by Body stressing. Labourers and related workers, Plant and machine operators and drivers, and Tradespersons all obviously have very high chances of experiencing a serious occurrence over their working life. The below diagrams provide information on the number of new Body stressing cases reported, the number of cases per 1,000 workers and the number of cases per million hours worked. These graphs also clearly show that Body stressing had the greatest impact upon Labourers and related workers, Plant and machine operators and drivers, and Tradespersons. These three occupations experienced nearly three-quarters of all the occurrences associated with Body stressing, at levels of occurrence far above the all occupations’ level. Indeed, Labourers and related workers experienced occurrences at levels approaching three times the all occupation levels (two and half times the rate of occurrence and nearly three times the frequency of occurrence). Undoubtedly, the nature of tasks undertaken by persons employed in these occupations militates towards significantly higher risk of Body stressing occurrences. Nevertheless, it is also obviously clear that a successful focus on these occupations is necessary if any substantial improvement in overall national performance is to be achieved.
Fig 12: – Probability of workers will experience serious injury/disease over their working life due to body stressing by occupation (chances in a 100)
Fig 13: – Body stressing number of cases by occupation, 1993-1994
Fig 14: – Body stressing rates of occurrence by occupation, 1993-1994
Fig 15: – Body stressing frequencies of occurrence by occupation, 1993-1994
Cost and time lost due to body stressing
There have been a number of estimates made of the total costs to Australia of poor performance in the area of occupational health and safety. In July 1994, Worksafe Australia put the annual cost at between $14.9 billion to $37.2 billion in 1992-93 dollar terms (which converts to a range of $16.2 billion to $40.5 billion in 199596 dollar terms if the consumer price index is used as the inflator). In September 1995, the Industry Commission estimated the annual cost of serious cases at $20.1 billion in 199293 dollars (approximately $21.9 billion in 199596 dollar terms).
Unlike financial losses, the primary cost to injured workers of Body stressing can only be measured in terms of their personal pain and suffering and the distress caused to their family, friends and work colleagues. Of course, these intangibles are very hard to objectively quantify. A proxy measurement for the relative degree of pain and suffering associated with a type of injury/disease occurrence is the time lost as a result of the injury/disease (although such an indicator is by no means a precise measurement scale, for example, the question arises as to whether it is worse to go through one week of ’sheer agony’ or four weeks of ‘chronic nagging pain’).
Information is provided in Figures 16 and 17 on working-time lost due to body stressing by occupations and industry. (These data will also be of some use as a proxy for the relative indirect costs of occurrences for employers, by industry and occupation, as most indirect costs are at least loosely linked to the duration of absence of the injured worker).
The more serious injuries/diseases caused by Body stressing resulted in 3.1 million working days lost from work in 1993-94 (excluding Vic and ACT). This constituted 46% of all time lost through work-related injury and disease in that year for those jurisdictions (using an estimate of the number of occurrences in Vic for 1993-94, the total time lost Australia-wide for serious, compensated cases is estimated at 4.1 million working days per annum). The average time lost per occurrence for serious Body stressing cases was 11.6 weeks, nearly one and one half times the average length of time lost for all the other types of more serious occurrences. If this latter fact is indicative of relative pain and suffering, body stressing cases are both quite prevalent and generally very painful.
Fig 16: – Body stressing duration of absence by occupation, 1993-1994
Fig 17: – Body stressing duration of absence by industry,1993-1994
Some suggestion for initiating preventive measures
When organisations have the commitment to make necessary changes it appears that they are often unsure of how to initiate appropriate action. It seems that, in order to obviate the uncertainty of what to do next, there is a fairly widespread desire for specific guidance, which can be followed step by step by a business and which will conclude, almost automatically, in a reduction in manual handling cases. Given the large number and wide variety of industries in Australia and the high degree of variability of circumstances between businesses within those industries, provision of such guidance is problematical.
In practice, each intervention to reduce the problem, to some extent, has to be tailored to meet the needs and resources of the individual business concerned. In this way, the situation in a particular business can be assessed by the person(s) within that business who have decision-making authority, in order to implement the most suitable option, given processing, technological and budgetary constraints affecting their workplaces.
The National Code of Practice for Manual Handling makes a number of points to lifting which it might be useful to consider, including (bracketed references are to relevant page numbers of the Code):
h Are workers undertaking this type of lifting too frequently? (p33)
h Do workers have to carry the objects further than is really necessary? (p33)
h Are the objects simply too heavy for manual handling? (p34)
h Are the objects of an awkward shape to carry while in a balanced posture? Are they difficult to obtain a good grip on? Are they unbalanced or do they have contents that may move suddenly?
h Do they have sharp edges or protusions? (p36)
h In the case of sheet material and other large-sized loads, are straps, special holders or team-lifting techniques used? (p37)
h Is the need to undertake these lifting tasks spread as evenly as possible across the working day or are there unnecessary periods of intensive activity caused by bottlenecks or unanticipated changes in the flow of material? (p38)
h Have workers been given all the necessary training? (p39)
Having addressed the above points the appropriate types of action might include one of, or a combination of, any of the following:
h The flow of materials through the workplace could be rearranged. For example, automatic doors could be installed at key points to obviate the need to put down and re-lift objects; rollers could be employed to facilitate movement of objects; changes could be made so that objects are located in optimal height ranges for handling; etc. (p49)
h The force required for lifting and lowering objects might be reduced by eliminating the need for manual movement by using lift tables, forklifts, hoists, balancers, gravity dumps/chutes; reducing the capacity of containers; changing object shapes; providing suitable grips or handles; providing better access to the load; etc (p51)
h Making better use of team lifting (p59).
h Mechanical aids might be introduced including sliding rails, roller/belt conveyors, lift jacks, adjustable platforms, mobile hoists, transport wagons, fork lift trucks and two-wheeled hand trucks (p59).
The manual handling problems considered above account for nearly a quarter of all Body stressing cases, from the national perspective. As demonstrated above, the Code is a good starting point for developing preventive measures for these types of problems. It provides pertinent information on the issues to be addressed and the broad options for solutions in certain circumstances. These general suggestions can then be refined to take into account the specific work environment, work flows, hazards and budgetary resources of the business which is attempting to improve its manual handling performance. (It should be noted that many studies have found that considerable improvement can often be achieved through relatively simple, low-cost workplace changes, which also usually improve the businesses’ productivity).
The process for introduction of preventive measures in respect of the other types of Body stressing problems identified in this analysis, would follow much the same steps as referred to above for the lifting of packaging and other materials. The Safe Manual Handling Checklist (pp 71-73 of the Code) is an appropriate starting point in this sequence of events.
This analysis of current data shows the types of problems arising at present from poor manual handling practices. It is clear that the National Standard for Manual Handling and its associated Codes of practice have an important role to play in reducing the incidence of these more prevalent occurrences and represents a very useful tool for this purpose. Nevertheless, their existence alone is insufficient to reduce manual handling injuries/diseases. It is also quite clear that effective outcomes require businesses to adapt the range of preventive options presented in the standard to their specific needs in order to develop viable solutions which produce results for their workplaces in the shortest practicable timeframes. Furthermore, in order to achieve these improvements, there must be continuing awareness of the problem at the workplace level, combined with the genuine commitment and perseverance necessary to eliminate it.
(1) Foley G, Gale J, Gavenlock L, ‘The Cost of Work-related Injury and Disease, J Occup Health Safety – Aust NZ, 11(2): 171-194, 1995.
(2) Industry Commission, Work, Health and Safety – Inquiry into Occupational Health and Safety, Report No. 47, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1995.
(3) Finch C, Rechnitzer G, Hodgson R, Brumen I, Caple D, Manual handling risk assessment in manufacturing industries – a focus on women. (An evaluation of the manual handling risk assessment checksheets), Report No. 97, Monash University Accident Research Centre, 1996. (Funded by Worksafe Australia).