Work-related injuries can be caused by obvious accidents, such as slips, trips and falls, but more often they’re caused by overuse of various body parts. Whatever the cause, identifying and controlling the risks can reduce these injuries. Under Australian workplace health and safety laws, organisations and businesses of any kind are required to manage risks to health and safety associated with work. As well, workers are required to co-operate with safe work practices.
August is Tradies National Health Month. A tradies’ health is their most important tool, yet Australian tradies experience some of the highest rates of injury and time off work compared to other workers, so find out why all Aussie tradies should choose physio here.
How do I know if I have work-related injury?
The results of a slip or fall at work are usually obvious—there can be bruising, skin abrasions, sore muscles and sometimes, broken bones or dislocated joints. However, overuse injuries occur gradually over time and the symptoms build up slowly. If you use the same muscles for long periods (holding objects or not moving regularly) or repeatedly for the same task (hammering, keyboarding or mousing) they will get tired over time. Muscle fatigue and soreness should ease within hours of stopping the task. If they do not and persist and build up over time, or if you feel them only at work, then this may indicate that you are developing an overuse injury.
What is an overuse injury?
Physically demanding work can take many forms. It includes work that requires:
It is also important to understand that physically demanding work can be even more risky when it is combined with workplace stress. Factors such as how much you enjoy your work or how well you get along with other workers and your supervisor can also contribute.
After a day’s work, it’s natural to feel tired, particularly when your work is physically hard or when you’re not used to it. This discomfort can also result from just sitting at a computer or driving a vehicle all day. Lack of movement and using the same muscles (eg: in the shoulders and arms) repeatedly can put you at risk of injury, just as much as heavy work.
It can be hard to define the start of an overuse injury but typically there is gradual onset of discomfort that increases over time. These can be hard to describe. It could be tightness, an ache, a feeling like pulling or burning, or pins and needles.
Sometimes these symptoms may come on when you’re feeling stressed or more tired than usual. You may ignore them because of this. Sometimes they may go away and never give you any further concern. However, if they persist and/or come and go, or maybe get gradually worse, it’s time to seek advice.
Some employers will provide the opportunity for a physiotherapist to come to the workplace to review your tasks with you. Your occupational health physiotherapist can assess your tasks in relation to your symptoms to pinpoint possible causes. They can then help you and your employer to find other ways for you to do those tasks with less risk of injury.
Should I be worried about aches, pains and other symptoms arising from my work?
Most people are reluctant to report what they think are minor symptoms. However, if you delay getting help, it may make things worse. For many people, it is often difficult to know where the reasonable cut-off point is between completing demanding tasks and maintaining health and safety. This is where your physiotherapist can help.
If you experience discomfort, soreness or tiredness in certain parts of your body, every day during and/or after work, or if these are gradually building up over time and spread from the one part of the body to another, then it’s time to take these warning signs seriously.
Physiotherapists believe that early intervention is the best approach. This may mean discussing your problems with people at work, particularly your supervisor. It’s likely to involve looking at ways to change your work to reduce or eliminate the risks of your developing symptoms, and perhaps seek treatment. These actions are far more successful if you do them early rather than later.
All workplaces should have an incident or near-miss report form. Most employers would prefer to know if an employee is experiencing symptoms as early as possible.
How can physiotherapy help with treating, managing and preventing symptoms from work-related injuries and illnesses?
Occupational health physiotherpists can:
A safe workplace culture can influence employee health and wellbeing. ‘Decent work,’ as defined by the International Labour Organization, is good for health.
Occupational health physiotherapists recommend early intervention both for prevention and treatment where it is required. If you report your symptoms early, this not only prevents them from getting worse, it also allows your employer to review the cause of your discomfort so that changes can be made. This can prevent you being re-injured and others from getting hurt.
Your physiotherapist knows how your body works and what might cause problems for you in all sorts of activities at work, home or when playing sport. They understand how the demands of your work may outdo your capacity to do the job from time to time.
Some workplaces will allow an occupational health physiotherapist to visit to review your tasks with you. They can assess your tasks and identify those that may be associated with risks for injury, then help make workplace changes. They can help you and your employer find other ways for you to do those tasks more efficiently and with fewer risks to your health and safety.
Looking after your health can reduce your risk of getting injured at work. For example, your risk of having an injury at work is less if you participate in regular physical activity, look after your mental health, maintain a healthy weight and do not smoke. Physiotherapists can show you ways to strengthen your muscles and joints in order to safely and efficiently perform your work. They can also look at the demands of your work and environment in order to make sure it is not placing unrealistic or excessive demands on your body.
In the clinic, physiotherapists can help by assessing your posture, observing your movements, identifying issues such as muscle tightness or muscle imbalance, and offer treatment to rectify any problems you might have. They will also direct your treatment program so that you can manage your own symptoms while you are recovering.
What can I do to help reduce my symptoms?
Everybody is different with respect to gender, body size, strength and power. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for your colleague or family member may not be suitable for you.
Seek help early—this is always the best approach. Make sure that you have a tailored self-management program that addresses your unique needs. Your occupational health physiotherapist can help you to understand the causes of your symptoms. They can also provide you with strategies to manage them.
Things you could do to prevent workplace injury and illness
Identifying and addressing warning signs can help you prevent workplace injury and illness.
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, try to probe a bit more and identify what parts of the jobs are causing you difficulties. You might try listing the tasks that you would change if you could. It is useful to talk to your supervisor about what you and your workmates can do to improve things.
There are times when you are more at risk of injury and illness, such as when:
What you can do for yourself at work
Questions to ask yourself at work
Heavier, more-active work