The importance of looking after you and your worker’s physical and mental health

Health can often be overlooked in the construction industry, but it’s a big contributor to time off work and workers compensation costs across Australia. Both physical and mental health risks can significantly impact the health of your workers and negatively impact your business if not taken seriously.

Physical Health

Musculoskeletal injuries

Work-related musculoskeletal injuries account for the majority of workers compensation costs in Australia compared to any other type of injury. Musculoskeletal injuries account for 37% of serious claims in Australia*.

Work-related musculoskeletal injuries can arise from body stressing such as:

  • handling, lifting, carrying or putting down of objects
  • Repetitive movement

Common injuries for construction workers can range from sprains, strains, and bruising which can be caused by heavy lifting, repetitive movement, poor body posture, forcefulness or muscle effort, or the vibrations from continuous use of hand tools. It’s important to note that these types of injuries can occur suddenly or develop over a period of time. Symptoms of a musculoskeletal injury may be in the form of pain and/or discomfort located in and around the neck, shoulders, wrists, back, and knees. 

There are many factors to consider when it comes to managing the risks associated with body stressing, however two key areas you can focus on are:

Physical factors:

  • Heavy loads
  • Lack of equipment
  • Challenging environments
  • Poor layout
  • Forces
  • Repetition 
  • Awkward postures 

Work Organisation factors:

  • Work hours / Time pressure
  • Lack of help
  • No breaks
  • Poor work planning
  • Training / Skill level

Prevention Tips

Some effective ways to help prevent these types of injuries include:

  • Pre planning the task / job
  • Task rotation with others 
  • breaking up your tasks throughout the day
  • warm-up and cool down stretches
  • Use mechanical aids for lifts
  • Ensure correct manual handling techniques
  • choosing a different piece of equipment
  • Encourage workers to report all instances where they may feel pain or discomfort. Don’t let it escalate into something more serious

For more information on musculoskeletal injuries, refer to one of our recent blogs on What treatments might look like and prevention tips. 

Health Monitoring

Did you know businesses are legally required to monitor the health of their workers in certain circumstances?

On construction sites, workers can be exposed to many hazards that can cause them harm over time. Some common hazards are: 

  • Airborne dust and fibres (i.e Asbestos, Silica) 
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • loud noises

Continuous exposure to these hazards can cause progressively worse health issues for your workers. This is why it is important to monitor your worker’s health where there may be a risk to their health. How monitoring is conducted can vary based on the hazard they may be exposed to. For example it may involve a hearing test, lung function or vision assessment. 

If your worksite exposes your workers to environments that can cause them harm, we recommend beginning the process of monitoring your worker’s health. 

Mental Health 

Workplace hazards that create risks of harm to psychological (mental) health are known as psychosocial hazards. These hazards, when excessive or prolonged, can cause serious harm.  It can have a significant impact on workers, their families and business. 

Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work. Every year 190 Australians working in the construction industry take their own lives; this means we lose a construction worker every second day to suicide. Young construction workers are two times more likely to take their own lives than other young workers. Workplaces have a legal responsibility to manage risks to mental health and wellbeing just like they do any other health and safety risk.

Psychosocial hazards can come from:  

  • work relationships and interactions, including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence 
  • the way the work or job is designed, organised and managed 
  • the equipment, working environment or requirements to undertake duties

Some work-related factors that can affect a mentally healthy work site include:

  • Work-related violence and aggression
  • Workplace bullying
  • Lack of recognition and reward
  • Low role clarity
  • Low support
  • Poor environmental conditions 
  • Poor organisational justice
  • Remote and isolated work

Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming but getting started doesn’t have to be. Take action to improve the mental health of your team today. Identifying risks and controlling them should be done by communicating with workers about what workplace conditions may be affecting their mental health. 

Some other tips to help build and maintain a mentally healthy work site include: 

  • Create a more positive and supportive work site
  • Establish awareness and support for workers experiencing mental health issues.
  • Celebrate workers and their efforts.
  • Take steps to improve role clarity and job satisfaction
  • Increase workers’ ability to make their own decisions about their work
  • Focus on retaining staff 
  • Promote work-life balance
  • Commit to zero tolerance for workplace bullying, violence and aggression

To learn more,  we have developed a great resource on How to build a mentally healthy work site which provides useful tips to help build and maintain a mentally healthy work site.

The hidden costs to your business

There is a large range of costs that surface when someone has an incident on the job that impacts their physical or mental state, especially when they can’t return to work the next day or sometimes for weeks or months. This can have a huge impact on deadlines, bottom line, skills on-site and team dynamics.

How HazardCo can help

Get the best from your team and work safer and healthier. Some simple ways to do this include: 

  • Monitor and Review
    • Conduct regular Site Reviews using the HazardCo App, to help identify and manage both physical and mental health hazards on-site.
  • Communication and Consultation
    • Start managing mental health at work today. Have a toolbox meeting to discuss the common issues that impact your worker’s mental health. Discuss ways to eliminate or minimise these risks. It’s good practice to keep records of your meetings, this can be done in the HazardCo App.
    • Stuck on toolbox talk topics? Discuss recent incidents, site review results and ideas on how to make the site safer both physically and mentally 
  • Ensure any near misses, injuries, incidents or illnesses, including mental health related incidents are reported using the HazardCo App and investigated.

If you have any further questions in regards to this topic or need more support, reach out to HazardCo and speak to one of our expert Health and Safety Advisors. You can contact us on 1800 954 702.

* Safe Work Australia reporting period of 2019 – 2020.

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