Injury management

A recent report highlights how much time we lose to injury and disease

Kaila Hamilton – WA and NT Regional Manager

When you work in occupational health, you quickly realise how valuable work is to Australians’ health and wellbeing.

Following the ‘Health Benefits of Good Work’, or HBGW for short, we know there’s compelling evidence that good work benefits individuals’ health and wellbeing.

A long-term absence from work can profoundly impact an injured worker’s quality of life.

A recent study released by the Medical Journal of Australia called The burden of working time lost to compensable occupational injury and disease in Australia, 2012–17: a retrospective population‐based study provides some fascinating insights.

The equivalent of over 40,000 full-time jobs lost

The study found that the equivalent of over 40,000 full-time jobs have been lost each year in Australia across 150,000 workers’ compensation claims, showing us the impact of work-related injury and disease on our workforce and productivity.

It also reminds us of the importance of occupational rehabilitation and return to work programs in protecting the health of Australian workers.

The study reports on working years lost, which is a helpful measure because it takes into account both the number of claims for lost time and the amount of compensated working time lost.

The measure provides insightful information outside of only workers’ compensation claim incidence, which generally guides our occupational health and safety policy within Australia.

Mental health accounts for 13% of lost time

An example worth highlighting is that mental health claims result in far greater absence from work compared to other injury types.

While 5.6% of claims for lost time were for mental health concerns, this accounted for 13% of all working years lost.

And it’s higher for female workers, reporting 19.2% of working years lost.

This is despite a significant focus in recent years on mental health conditions.

It shows us how critical psychological services and interventions are to support workers’ mental health in injury prevention and the return to work process.

It’s an insight backed up by Safe Work Australia, who in 2023 reported work-related mental health conditions are rising, with time off work in these cases being more than four times longer than other work-related injuries.

This is further proof that ongoing services and support are required to manage mental health concerns within our workplaces.

Traumatic joint and muscle injuries are number 1

The study also tells us which type of injuries result in the greatest loss of working years.

Traumatic joint and muscle injuries accounted for 40% of injuries, with musculoskeletal disorders the second highest at 20.7%.

This stresses how important it is for workplaces to implement safety measures and injury prevention programs and incorporate early return to work programs to promote better physical and mental outcomes for injured workers.

Improving tailored services and support

While significant focus remains on early intervention, early access to medical treatment, early financial compensation and return to work support in Australia, there is still more work to be done to prevent workplace injuries and support our workers following injuries.

The nature of work-related injuries is constantly changing, influenced by the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases among workers, the increase in mental health conditions and a shift to a service‐based economy.

With more studies incorporating population-level occupational health measures, we are better placed to provide even more tailored services and support to the areas where they are needed, resulting in reduced injuries and better health outcomes for all Australian workers.

If you’d like to know more about the report or talk to us about any aspect of occupational health and rehabilitation, please contact us.

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