Victoria fights to reduce musculoskeletal injuries

MANUAL handling is the biggest cause of workplace injury in Victoria. Last year, more than 10,000 people were injured as a result of unsafe manual handling. The terms refers to the use of one’s body to exert force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain objects or people.

Hazardous manual handling can lead to serious musculoskeletal injuries. These can be debilitating and long-term conditions that can severely affect a person’s quality of life.

In June this year, WorkSafe Victoria launched a year-long campaign targeting musculoskeletal injuries which is estimates to targets $1 billion problem

“Musculoskeletal injuries are the most common workplace injury, costing nearly $1 billion a year in medical costs, wages and other expenses,” said Victorian Assistant Treasurer, Gordon Rich-Phillips at the time of the launch.

“They affect the body's muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves, are easily prevented, often difficult to treat and can be long-lasting and a source of great pain.

Rich-Phillips stated that every day 43 Victorians are seriously hurt with these sorts of injuries, with an average workers’ compensation claim costing $55,000 medical costs, wages and other expenses.

He also noted that Victoria had the lowest workplace injury insurance premiums in Australia stating that the State Government had slashed WorkCover premiums by 3% to 1.298% in this year’s Budget, which he is said is saving employers $57 million a year.

“Dangerous manual handling particularly lifting, lowering and moving things account for about 68 per cent of all musculoskeletal injury claims, while about 20 per cent are the result of slips, trips and falls,” Rich-Phillips said.

“These injuries are largely hidden because they do not make the nightly news, but the impact on workers, their families and their employer’s business can be enormous and long-lasting.

“Ensuring people are properly trained and supervised, use the right equipment and clean up spills to prevent falls are no-cost or low-cost measures that will reduce workplace accidents,” he said.

Legal duties

Employers have a general duty to make the workplace safe, as well as specific duties in relation to hazards such as manual handling. They must identify any tasks that involve hazardous manual handling. If these tasks pose a risk of musculoskeletal disorder, you must eliminate the risk.

If it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, employers must reduce the risk, as far as reasonably practicable, by: changing the workplace layout, the workplace environment or the systems of work changing the objects used in the task; or using mechanical aids. If there is still a risk after using these methods, you should control it by providing information, training or instruction.

Employers must review (and, where necessary, revise) workers risk controls if things change, if there is a report of a MSD in the workplace, or at the request of a health and safety representative.

While employers are required to protect employees from manual handling injuries, employees also have a general duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, and that of others who may be affected by their work, and to cooperate with the employer’s efforts to make the workplace safe. This may include: using manual handling equipment properly following workplace policies and procedures (e.g. using trolleys, team lifting) attending health and safety training; and not taking any shortcuts that could increase manual handling risks.

Employeees can also help their employer make the workplace safer by notifying them of any hazardous manual handling tasks that you become aware of.

A manual handling code of practice is available for employers through the WorkSafe Victoria website. The document covers the steps of risk assessment and control and includes information on the responsibilities of designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of machinery and equipment.

Information sourced from WorkSafe Victoria.

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