Workplace injuries cost the Australian economy more than $60bn annually. However, it is the social and personal aspect of an injured person’s life that suffers most. Especially as the injuries often have permanent impact on their quality of life.
Unsurprisingly, people in trades are most likely to suffer an injury in their career. Approximately 42 percent of construction workers suffer musculoskeletal injuries, because of the repetitive and physical nature of their work, according to Worksafe Queensland. And of serious claims across Australia, The Australian Physiotherapists’ Association estimates that 90 percent of them across all occupations were musculoskeletal.
“Tradespeople quite frequently suffer from shoulder, lower back, and knee injuries, which are almost always repetitive in nature, rather than the result of a traumatic injury”.
August is Tradies National Health Month, which brings an increased focus on workplace issues. Jobsite has spoken with a leading US Athletic Trainer and corrective exercise specialist, Alan Russell, to understand the key issues and learn some simple steps tradespeople can use to minimise the risk of permanent injury.
Alan has a long history of dealing with sufferers of acute and chronic injuries, starting with sports injuries in the professional baseball league, and later dealing with first responders (emergency services). Now, he is a community safety advisor in the US healthcare system, identifying ways to avoid long term-injuries through a 40-point movement assessment program.
“Tradespeople quite frequently suffer from shoulder, lower back, and knee injuries, which are almost always repetitive in nature, rather than the result of a traumatic injury,” he explained. “For example, tilers could suffer knee and lower back injuries from constant bending, or builders and carpenters might suffer elbow and wrist injuries from the ongoing volume of constant hammer strikes day to day.”
Alan advocates exercise as a means of prevention, rather than waiting for issues to manifest themselves: “Most injuries can be minimised through a few stretches each day before starting work, to strengthen the more vulnerable areas.”
The primary areas to target through stretching include…
Facing a wall or sturdy object, stand with feet staggered and toes pointed straight ahead. Lean against the wall with your upper body.
Get into a kneeling position with the back knee on a soft surface and the front leg bent 90-degrees.
Latissimus Dorsi (‘lats’ or lower back)
Place your hands and knees on the ground in a table top position.
Other stretches may be required where different muscle groups are use, such as wrist stretches where workers may use a hammer all day.
Many stretches involve lying on the ground, and Alan acknowledges this may not be practical on a worksite. That’s why he recommends the use of elastic resistance bands so that stretching can be completed while standing.
“Bend the knees, and use legs and hips to lift, not your back, and if you have existing limitations with bending, heavy lifting will impact your health”.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, which specialise in Worker’s Compensation injuries, recently published a checklist to help workers protect themselves against injury and poor well-being. Among its advice was be your own health advocate, which included diet and exercise recommendations to ensure people are at optimum health.
It called for tradespeople to keep a tab on their mental health, workplace stress, and fatigue, and warned that workplace bullying can cause a huge strain on a person’s mental health. It also advocated safe handling techniques and avoiding twisting or awkward movements, keeping your load close to your body, and asking for help if needed. Naturally, Maurice Blackburn also promoted the use of approved equipment and safety gear.
Alan Russell also advocates safe lifting techniques: “Bend the knees, and use legs and hips to lift, not your back, and if you have existing limitations with bending, heavy lifting will impact your health, and potentially limit availability to work” he said.
“While we can all compensate in certain areas and use a different muscle group, it is not good to do so,” explained Alan. “It is like bending a plastic spoon repeatedly. Sure, it’s possible, but not for long. After too much stress on the wrong muscle group, people could suffer a far more debilitating injury.
“Tradespeople often believe that experiencing pain while undertaking their job is normal because of the manual labour involved, but don’t overlook persistent and chronic pain. If you have ongoing pain for a week without any easing or resolution, it is much safer to have it checked out,” said Alan.
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