Workers in the construction industry, together with those in the transport industries, have been identified as being at a higher risk of traumatic spinal injuries.
A team of researchers from The University of NSW Sydney and the University of Sydney highlighted why the need for more effective safety and prevention measures is crucial.
The study published recently in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, evaluated 824 cases of people treated at NSW hospitals over a 3 year period with work related traumatic spinal injuries.
The study revealed that 86 per cent of those treated were male and the average age was 47 years. They spent 16 days on average in hospital and accounted for 13,302 acute-care bed days. These injuries cost $19.5 million in time off work and medical expenses.
The study’s co-author Professor Rebecca Ivers, Head, School of Public Health & Community Medicine at UNSW Sydney highlighted the need for stronger regulation and education in these high risk sectors,
“Prevention is by far the best approach and we know that effective regulation is the most cost-effective means of reducing injury,” she explained.
The lead author of the study was Dr Lisa Sharwood of the University of Sydney School of Medicine. She said 50 per cent of spinal injuries happened in the construction industry and mostly due to falls from height.
“Our study reveals that 50 per cent of work-related spinal injuries happened in the construction industry and 31 per cent occurred in transport vehicle crashes.
“In the construction industry, 78 per cent of spinal injuries were due to falls. These were predominantly falls from height, such as from building structures, scaffolding or ladders.
“This study demonstrates that the construction industry is still experiencing a high burden of work-related spinal trauma, particularly related to falls, despite safety measures being in place.
Dr Sharwood called for increased local surveillance of safety systems and stricter enforcement of legislation.
Since we know where the problem lies, it is something we should be paying greater attention and care to, if we want to see improvement.
The study found that 31 per cent of spinal injuries were caused by transport crashes, particularly heavy vehicle crashes – 24 per cent.
Many of these occurred ‘off-road’, in fact half of all transport injuries did not take place on state roads but on farms and rural properties, so the injured victims were not covered by the compulsory third party (CTP) insurance scheme.
Dr Sharwood pointed to the chain of responsibility to address industry safety for drivers.
“Work-related traumatic spinal injuries represent a significant burden of cost and disability to the Australian workforce but they are preventable.
“Work-related traumatic spinal injuries are a current focus of Safe Work Australia policy aiming to reduce serious injury compensation claims by 30 per cent by 2022.
“There is an urgent need for more effective policies, risk management strategies and countermeasures for prevention.”