Work is a very important part of our lives and an essential aspect of Australia’s economy and growth. It not only provides us with financial security but it also gives us meaning, purpose and a sense of fulfilment. It’s therefore important to keep as many people working as possible in whatever capacity they can manage.
Current evidence suggests that when balanced with life, work is good for physical and mental health while long-term worklessness is detrimental. In fact, the rate of suicide in young men out of work for more than 6 months increases by 40 times.
It is essential that workplaces support their workers by putting in place steps to prevent injury. This is particularly important in jobs that require large amounts of manual handling such as factories, building sites and natural resource sites. Employers can reduce manual handling based injuries in their workers in a number of ways including creating automated work processes, hiring more staff, rotating shifts and providing training in safe manual handling.
But it is not only the employers who need to take responsibility for preventing workplace injuries. Employees need to be proactive in protecting their own body and well-being. Many factory workers that I work with are very deconditioned from years of neglecting their body through diet, smoking, lack of physical activity and lack of recovery after work. Some think that doing a physical job means that they don’t need to do exercise outside of work. But unfortunately, a lot of factory work today involves repetitive movements whilst standing in the one spot, which works some muscles whilst others get neglected. This can create postures that cause pain and lead to overuse injuries over time.
Being deconditioned and unhealthy in this way can also mean that recovery from injuries can take longer. It is therefore important for workers to look after their bodies through lifestyle factors and by exercising outside of work so that other muscle groups can be used. Walking is perhaps one of the best exercises a person can do outside of work as it helps to improve posture, decrease pain, increases blood flow and improves mental health.
When an injury does occur, both the injured worker and the employer have a responsibility to get the person back to work.
An injury will heal fastest by gradually introducing loads to the injured tissues. Part of this may be a graduated rehabilitation program guided by a physiotherapist, but just as importantly, a graduated return to work will allow the body to adapt to the loads it will encounter with a full return to work.