How to reduce muscle strains through minimising stress

Monday, 10 April, 2017 - 10:00
Industry news


Exposure to both physical and psychosocial work risk factors increase the risk of a worker reporting musculoskeletal symptoms, according to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, which said that effective prevention and management of musculoskeletal disorders involves exploring work tasks and how they are performed.

This includes any physical and psychosocial risks, the physical working environment in which the work is performed, and the individual worker’s needs.

Safe Work Australia’s Good Work Design handbook provides a framework to achieve effective injury prevention including musculoskeletal disorders (otherwise known as sprains and strains).

“Occupational stress can increase a worker’s risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder, more commonly known as a ‘muscle strain’,” the regulator said.

“When the physical and psychological demands on workers are greater than the worker’s ability to cope with them, they experience stress.

“Stress creates a wide variety of physical, mental and behavioural responses within a person, which increases their risk of tissue damage and pain.”

It recently released a guide on reducing occupational stress, which are the physical, mental, and emotional reactions that workers experience when they perceive that work demands are greater than their capacity to do the work, due to limited ability or necessary resources.

Occupational stress is linked to a number of poor worker health outcomes, diseases and disorders, including:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.

 Poorly managed stress can also lead to:

  • Reduced morale and erosion of worker commitment
  • Breakdown of individual or team relationships
  • Reduced efficiency, productivity and profitability
  • Poor public image and reputation
  • Increased absenteeism and turnover of staff
  • Higher costs incurred by the business for recruitment and training new staff, counselling and mediation costs, workers’ compensation claims and legal processes.

 As far as reasonably practicable, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland said that businesses are required to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe, without risks to health, including psychological health.

To assist in this process, businesses should use a risk assessment process like its people at work project, which helps businesses understand and manage their psychosocial risks.

Risk assessment tools provide a structured way to consult with workers about psychological risks, and help businesses prioritise risks, and choose appropriate prevention strategies, and specific risk factors at work that contribute to occupational stress include:

  • High mental, emotional and/or physical work demands,
  • Low control over work and the way it is organised
  • Low levels of support from supervisors and peers
  • Lack of role clarity or increased role confusion
  • Poorly managed workplace conflict
  • Poorly managed organisational change
  • Poor workplace culture
  • Low levels of worker recognition and reward.

 Chronic disease risk factors such as smoking, poor nutrition, drugs and alcohol, insufficient physical activity, obesity, and poor mental health can also put workers at increased risk of injury or illness at work.

“Chronic disease risk management can be undertaken in conjunction with health and safety risk management processes,” said the regulator, which has also released a work health planning guide to assist businesses to improve the health and wellbeing of their workers in a workplace setting.