Report shows T&L back injury status still troubling


Older workers more prone to damage and are failing to report it, while smaller firms carry the load

Report shows T&L back injury status still troubling
Konekt’s Nicholas Ward sees positives and negatives in the figures

 

It may not be in the worst category for back injury claims but transport and logistics continues to have a poor and expensive record, the latest Konekt report on the issue shows.

And despite Australians being infamous for "taking a sickie", new research shows most are reluctant to take action if they injure themselves – especially when it comes to back pain, the organisational health and risk management firm finds.

The Konekt Market Report, which is the largest of its kind in Australia, analysed more than 113,000 cases of workers compensation and non-compensable cases over a six year period.

It found that while lower back pain is the second-greatest contributor of disability in Australia, employees either take their time reporting injuries or ignore them until they become debilitating.

"The latest Konekt Market Report shows that the transport, postal and warehousing sector has the third highest frequency of back injury claims over the last decade," Konekt product manager Nicholas Ward says.

"Almost one in five referrals [to employers or health professionals] from employees in the transport, postal and warehousing sector are for back injuries with the average cost of an injured worker $1,319.

"The Konekt Market Report shows the sector has an 87 per cent return to work probability with a service duration of less than 10 week which is much lower when compared to other industries.

"Last financial year saw an increase in the number of referrals being made relating to back injuries.

"While the total number of claims is decreasing and the average time lost associated with back strain injuries halved between 2000 and 2001 and 2010 and 2011, alarmingly we noticed an increase in the average delay from when an injury occurs to when it is reported and then referred for support and return to work services."

The top two places are taken by the information media and telecommunications sector, along with rental hiring and real estate services.  

While larger firms have the resources to better cope with the financial burden, the same is less so for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and outcomes reflect this.

"Data showed small and medium employers are shouldering the burden through higher rehabilitation costs," Ward says.

"Significantly, small employers are, on average, waiting 114 weeks to refer employees for rehabilitation services."

"We found that the return to work rate for small business is 85 per cent, compared with 90 per cent for large businesses.

"Smaller businesses are less likely to have internal expertise in relation to injury management [and] will be more reliant on external providers."

The Konekt Market Report, the largest of its kind in Australia, analyses more than 113,000 cases of workers compensation and non-compensable cases over a six year period.

It finds that while lower back pain is the second-greatest contributor of disability in Australia, employees either take their time reporting injuries or ignore them until they become debilitating, its researchers say.

Musculoskeletal injuries represented the largest workplace injury category, with back injuries accounting for almost one third. And in the compensable environment ‘back strain’ injuries represented almost one in five serious injury claims over the last decade.

Around three million Australians, or 14 per cent of the population, suffer from low back pain, and according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, $5.7 billion was spent on arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions in 2008-2009, with $1.18 billion of that specifically on back problems.

A cost-of-illness study carried out in Australia estimated the indirect costs associated with low back pain to be $8.15 billion due to loss of earnings and productivity..

Professor Chris Maher, director of the University of Sydney Medical School Musculoskeletal Division and one of the world’s top back pain specialists, says there are numerous misconceptions about the causes and treatment of back pain.

''We know that the worker with back pain, their employer and the clinician managing the worker’s back pain may misunderstand back pain, so we really need to think about educational programs targeting each of those groups,'' Maher says.

The report also showed males aged aged 30-39 had the highest incidence of back injuries, and were more likely to report them (65 per cent of).

Back injury claims made by women to employers/healthcare professionals rose from 33 per cent of to 39 per cent of over the past decade.

Maher says in general back pain is more common in women than in men – and that there’s a very strong genetic predisposition to getting back pain. 

"Before we used to think that back pain was mainly caused by injury and poor lifestyle, but I think we're now starting to realise that a person’s genes can also influence how much back pain they experience," he says.

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