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

Your business’ health starts with its people.

Health can often be overlooked in the construction industry, but it’s a big contributor to time off work. With 78% of workers having suffered a mental or physical injury at work and an average 32 days off work for ACC claim injuries.

Injuries in your industry may seem like they are just part of the job, but they can significantly impact your output if not taken seriously.

The importance of looking after you and your worker’s physical health in the construction industry

Strains and Sprains

The construction industry has become the number one industry for ACC claims with strains and sprains, (also known as Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs), making up a whopping 57% of the problem. 

Common injuries for construction workers can range from sprains, strains, and contusions (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. Symptoms of a workplace injury can range from any kind of pain and discomfort located in and around the neck, shoulders, wrists, back, and knees.

It is well known that there are a range of factors that contribute to MSDs. It’s not just one single factor, such as the lifting technique (although for industries such as scaffolding and roofing handling techniques are an important factor).

The research firmly points to four groups of factors we need to tackle when addressing MSDs in construction:

Physical factors, such as:

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

Individual factors such as:

  • Gender / Age
  • Fitness / Flexibility / Strength
  • Diet / Hydration
  • Weight
  • Attitude

 Psychosocial factors such as: 

  • Communication
  • Relationships
  • Stress and tension
  • Time pressure
  • Financial strain
  • Management support and the amount of control workers have over their work tasks

Work Organisation factors such as:

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

It may not surprise you that physical factors often take most of the blame and focus as their connection is easy to understand, measure and observe. There are also proven strategies to overcome physical factors such as machinery, equipment, and task modifications. Combining the other factors into your approach is where the construction industry will get the most benefit. Understanding how these factors can combine and influence each other to cause problems will be crucial.

The most common solutions to dealing with MSD are:

  • Micropauses and position changes
  • Task rotation
  • Stretch warm-up and cool down
  • Cardio and strength fitness/flexibility
  • Stress management
  • Backcare
  • Communication
  • Work planning
  • Early reporting

As a business owner have you thought about the hidden costs?

Data shows that sprains and strains often become more problematic later in a construction worker’s career, with the largest claims in the housing construction sector. Between 2015 and 2019,  57% of ACC claims were MSD injuries, with the average cost being $3700, and a total of  1.9 million compensation days paid out, costing a total of $325m! 

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

What can I do to prevent injury?

Have you thought about other ways you could be working to alleviate the stress on your body? It could be as simple as:

  • doing a few warm-ups at the start of the day, 
  • breaking up your tasks throughout the day, 
  • taking a moment to stop and stretch throughout the task or 
  • choosing a different piece of equipment.

It’s common practice when you work out, that you warm up and cool down, so why is working any different? Accepting the reality of MSDs helps us formulate an effective approach to combat MSDs in our industry.

Prevention and early intervention are key to maintaining a healthy musculoskeletal system so you can carry out your day-to-day duties on-site and personal activities you love to do in your own time. Ensure you keep fit and healthy; regular exercise, a good diet, and sleep can assist in keeping your body ready to take on work and recover faster. 

Health Monitoring

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

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

Some common hazards are: 

  • airborne contaminants such as dust, fibers, fumes & chemicals
  • loud noises
  • repetitive motions

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. Specifically their lung function, hearing, vision, and work-related musculoskeletal conditions.

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

To further assist your health monitoring efforts, HazardCo has partnered with Habit Health, who provides nationwide medical checks. They’re experienced in health monitoring for the construction industry, and their efficient, cost-effective service is discounted for HazardCo members. 

They can offer:

  • Hearing assessment
  • Lung assessment
  • Vision assessment

The importance of looking after you and your worker’s mental health in the construction industry

Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 Kiwi adults report experiencing poor mental wellbeing? This makes up a significant percentage of our workforce in New Zealand. This means that there is a good chance that you or someone you work with is struggling with or at some stage has struggled with their mental wellbeing.  

We all know that work can affect your physical health. There are risks and hazards on-site that can cause you harm like slips, trips, falls, hazardous substances, dust and so many more. Working can also impact your mental health in more ways than one. 

Some common workplace hazards that can affect a worker’s mental health are:

  • Financial Pressure
  • Lack of work
  • Too much work
  • Long hours and fatigue
  • Workplace bullying or harassment
  • Increasing costs of materials
  • Projects not going to plan

Businesses should try to prevent mental health harm at its source. Identifying risks and controlling them should be done by communicating with workers about what workplace conditions are harming their mental health. Things like low job control, low support, poor environmental conditions, and exposure to injury or harassment can increase the likelihood of mental harm. 

Businesses should look to create workplaces that remove exposure to stressors, such as:

  • Make sure people understand their role
  • Increase workers’ ability to make their own decisions about their work
  • Offer a good balance between effort and reward
  • Take a long-term view of productivity
  • Focus on retaining staff 
  • Promoting work-life balance.
  • No tolerance for workplace bullying

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.

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Meeting your health and safety requirements shouldn’t be a chore. Instead, it should be an easy, functional and productive part of your day. With HazardCo, that is exactly what it becomes.

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