The link between psychosocial hazards and manual handling injuries
Psychosocial hazards in the workplace can lead to increased risk of manual handling injuries, as many workplaces are starting to realise. To make the biggest difference and have the greatest impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of your workers, it’s important to provide psychosocial interventions to try and avoid manual handling injuries.
What are psychosocial hazards?
Psychosocial hazards are factors that increase the risk of work-related stress. Psychosocial hazards impact the psychological health, mental, emotional and/or physical wellbeing of a person. They relate to demands within the workplace that can be detrimental to an employee’s health, if not appropriately identified and managed.
Managers who are not aware of WHS model laws are, in effect, operating an unsafe workplace. As a result, employees can be left exposed to psychosocial hazards and the costly workplace injuries that can follow.
In fact, it is estimated psychological health conditions cost Australian workplaces around $11 billion per year. According to SafeWork Australia, $45,000 is the median compensation paid for work-related psychological injuries. Each claim in turn increases your Workers Compensation premiums.
Manual handling injuries in the workplace
Almost every employee is exposed to some form of manual handling at work, varying in risk from workplace to workplace. A manual task involves using your body to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing. Incorrect manual handling performed within a hazardous workplace can lead to serious injury.
Manual handling injuries include:
- Back injuries
- Strains and sprains
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
- Slip, trip and fall injuries
Psychosocial hazards that contribute to manual handling injuries
Psychosocial factors that contribute to manual handling injuries, such as MSDs, include:
- Lack of support at work
- Inefficient organisational justice
- Overload of job demands
Lack of support at work
Workers may experience feelings of loneliness and stress with inadequate support from supervisors and co-workers. For example, if an employee is unable to receive communication and support, this may lead to stress.
Stress responses can occur as physical, mental, or emotional reactions. Stress arises when workers feel unable to cope with work demands within their required duties of work. Whilst job stress is not a disorder itself, it can impact decision making. SafeWork Australia states that “if job stress is excessive or prolonged, it may lead to psychological or physical injury”.
Poor organisational justice
Organisational justice refers to worker’s perception of fairness and procedures at work. The ability to direct certain activities clearly, in order to achieve organisational goals, is critical in reducing manual handling injuries. Poor organisational justice can result in an inconsistency or bias in the implementation of procedures. As a result, employees will be unsure of the correct measures to take when completing an activity.
Without sufficient information on work priorities or training on how to do tasks, employees are left to navigate the unknown by themselves. The absence of clear communication can see a decrease in productivity and an increase in injury.
For example, where support for the role is unavailable and procedures are unclear, staff may be unaware they are engaging in activities that can inflict injury.
To avoid inefficient organisational justice:
- Reduce carrying distances
- Keep frequently used objects in easy to reach places
- Store heavy objects at waist height
All of these efforts can help decrease the risk of repetitive strain injuries.
Overload of job demands
Examples of job demands include:
- Long work hours
- High workloads, such as significant time pressure
- Emotional effort towards distressing situations, including aggressive clients
- Exposure to traumatic events or work-related violence
- Lack of job control
For example, an employee who is required to work significantly long work hours may experience fatigue. Fatigue when performing manual handling tasks could lead to injury.
Research by Comcare indicates that:
- improving job satisfaction can reduce 17-69% of work-related back disorders.
- improving a worker’s ability to control their work can reduce 37-84% of work-related wrist disorders.
As an employer, what can I do to reduce the risk?
Recovery Partners can support your business to reduce the risk of both manual handling injuries and psychosocial hazards.
To be eligible to apply:
- You are a workplace or are partnering with a workplace in the healthcare and social assistance, manufacturing, or transport and warehousing industries.
- You have an idea for a project to address the physical and/or psychosocial factors contributing to MSDs.
- Your project seeks to improve risk management practices and risk controls relating to manual handling.
Reach out today for assistance with your application to WorkSafe Victoria.
Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/
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