The Impact on Workers and Strategies to Prevent Injuries
In a significant move to address the soaring cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) in Australia, the Australian Chiropractors Association (ACA) has unveiled “WorkSpace Week,” set to take place from October 2 to 8, 2023. This initiative aims to shed light on the alarming prevalence of WMSDs in the country and their profound impact on the well-being of workers. ACA has also issued a stern warning to those most vulnerable to workspace spine-related injuries.
Battling the Silent Epidemic
WorkSpace Week, an undertaking of the Australian Chiropractors Association (ACA), is dedicated to combatting workspace-related WMSDs, which have emerged as Australia’s foremost occupational health and safety concern. These disorders inflict an annual cost of over $55 billion on the Australian economy, encompassing direct healthcare expenses, productivity loss, and a diminished quality of life for sufferers.
Launching the national campaign on Labour Day (NSW, SA, and ACT), Dr. David Cahill, President of ACA, underscored the campaign’s objectives, stating,
“Through WorkSpace Week, our goal is to curtail the incidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) by raising awareness about workspace risks and implementing strategies to mitigate these risks, particularly in jobs known to pose a high threat to workers.”
The Burden of Musculoskeletal Conditions
Dr. Cahill referenced a World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2019, which revealed musculoskeletal conditions as the largest contributor to persistent pain conditions worldwide. Low back pain emerged as the primary cause of disability on a global scale. WMSDs comprise a spectrum of inflammatory and degenerative conditions affecting muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, and blood vessels. They may stem from a single workplace incident but often result from prolonged exposure to harmful workspace activities.
Prevention and Early Intervention: A Shared Responsibility
Dr. Cahill stressed, “Reducing the incidence of WMSDs and minimizing their impact through prevention, early diagnosis, and effective treatments should be the top priority for both workers and employers alike.”
To identify the extent of WMSD prevalence and high-risk groups, ACA commissioned Pureprofile to conduct a nationwide survey involving 1001 Australians. Shockingly, the findings revealed that 87% of respondents either currently suffer from or have experienced a WMSD, potentially affecting their mental health. This highlights the colossal burden that WMSDs place on Australians’ spinal and mental well-being, alongside the massive economic toll.
Beyond Traditional Causes
Dr. Cahill noted that while body stress is the most frequently cited cause of serious workers’ compensation claims, arising from improper lifting, pushing, pulling, or bending, the survey identified additional culprits. Prolonged sitting, computer usage (both at the office and home), and repetitive movements in the workplace were found to contribute to chronic neck and back pain when injuries are not promptly prevented or treated.
The Urgent Need for Prevention
Of the respondents, 73% reported experiencing three or more WMSDs, with low back pain (62%), neck pain (55%), mid back pain (53%), and tension/cervicogenic headaches (52%) being the most prevalent. The data underscores the pressing need for employers and employees alike to implement preventive measures.
Targeting Key Vulnerabilities
“Considering these survey results and in light of a worldwide study led by the University of Sydney, which identified low back pain as the most commonly recorded workplace injury, WorkSpace Week is primarily aimed at prevention and early intervention of WMSDs caused by body stress, repetitive work, poorly configured non-ergonomic workstations, and mental stress,”
stated Dr. Cahill.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2021-22), certain occupations are particularly vulnerable to WMSDs. Community and personal service workers, including healthcare, aged care, NDIS, and disability service workers, face significant risks. Additionally, machinery operators, drivers, laborers, technicians, and tradespeople exhibit high rates of work-related physical injuries.
The Computer Conundrum
The survey uncovered computer use as a leading cause of the top four WMSDs: low back, neck, mid back, and tension/cervicogenic headaches. In fact, it ranked as the top or second most common trigger for nine out of twelve WMSDs, demonstrating the significant role of computer usage in these conditions. Notably, 89% of desk workers reported suffering from a WMSD, with female desk workers experiencing the highest incidence at 91%.
The Mental Toll
The survey also unveiled that 84% of WMSD sufferers experienced work-related stress, contributing to tension and cervicogenic headaches that negatively impact concentration, productivity, social engagement, and overall well-being.
A Safer Alternative to Medications
In light of recent developments, including the reduction of paracetamol product pack sizes by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in May 2023 and the University of Sydney’s findings in June 2023 that discourage the use of opioids for acute neck or back pain, Dr. Cahill emphasized the importance of seeking early treatment for musculoskeletal disorders.
Chiropractic Care: A Path to Wellness
Research has shown that WMSDs resulting from physical or mental stress respond positively to early, effective chiropractic healthcare that targets the injury rather than just alleviating symptoms. Such care can prevent deterioration, enhance recovery, reduce severity, and reduce the long-term reliance on medications for chronic pain and depression.
The Chiropractic Solution
Chiropractic healthcare offers non-surgical, drug-free consultations, totaling 350,000 every week for Australians. ACA chiropractors specialize in a patient-centered, multi-modal approach, delivering proven relaxation techniques and holistic healthcare that address underlying conditions rather than mere symptoms.
Protecting Your Spinal Health
Dr. Cahill urged anyone involved in repetitive tasks, prolonged sitting or standing, lifting or pushing, and computer usage to be vigilant against work-related spinal health issues, including back or neck pain and headaches, which can evolve into chronic conditions.
Prevention is the Best Protection
During National WorkSpace Week 2023, ACA’s focus is on preventing work-related spinal health disorders stemming from physical and mental stress, repetitive tasks, and poorly configured workspaces. The aim is to minimize workplace injuries and mitigate the long-term impact on employers, the economy, and the overall health and well-being of affected workers.
Resources for a Healthier Workspace
To further support this initiative, ACA has thoughtfully developed a range of free resources available at workspaceweek.org.au. These resources include an Ergonomic Checklist for computer users, the My Healthy WorkSpace Stretching Poster, and Factsheets specifically designed for headache sufferers and workers who routinely sit, lift, bend, and stand for extended periods.
Additionally, workers can access the Consult A Chiro Podcast to learn more about maintaining spinal health and download the free Straighten Up app—a “pocket chiropractor” to minimize WMSDs and optimize spinal health and well-being, ultimately enhancing productivity in any work environment.
Join the Challenge: #StraightenUpAustralia
Throughout WorkSpace Week, all Australians are encouraged to participate in the #StraightenUpAustralia Challenge—a three-minute exercise activity using ACA’s Straighten Up app in their workspace. This initiative aims to promote the concept of “working well anywhere” and encourages participants to share videos and images of their #MyHealthyWorkspace.