Back and neck pain creating problems for young workers

Published 31 Jul 2015

Young employees in Australia are suffering from back and neck injuries in greater numbers, which could be having a significant effect on productivity.

A new report from Safe Work Australia, titled Work Productivity Loss in Young Workers, said both absenteeism and presenteeism are issues. The former describes people taking time off due to injuries or illness, while the latter refers to employees who continue to work, but at a reduced effectiveness.

"Given the growing importance of younger workers to national productivity in the face of an ageing population, understanding young worker productivity loss is essential," the report's authors stated.

Employees who cannot work due to sickness or injury may be entitled to income protection, which provides short-term financial support in the form of a monthly payment.

According to Safe Work Australia, musculoskeletal disorders are the most common health problem among young staff members. However, psychological issues such as depression and anxiety are also regularly reported.

Statistics showed around 17 per cent of respondents said they currently experienced back pain, while 9 per cent had been diagnosed with a neck injury or strain. Overall, nearly one-fifth of young workers said they suffered from one or both of these ailments.

The cost of absenteeism

In severe cases, musculoskeletal disorders can result in total and permanent disabilities, meaning the employee is unable to ever return to the workplace. A TPD claim may therefore be necessary to receive a lump sum payment that ensures ongoing financial stability.

The cost for businesses is also a problem. Safe Work Australia's report showed respondents - who were aged around 23 years old - with back and neck pain take almost twice the time off that unaffected employees do.

The organisation estimated the productivity losses at approximately $139 million per year. Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter said the situation could create a significant drain on the country's enterprises.

"Manifested over a career, the impact of back and neck pain from a relatively young age would have significant productivity costs at the organisation and national levels if not addressed in the workplace," she explained.

The report was just one of four studies Safe Work Australia released this month. The organisation also examined safety in the transport industry - one of the nation's most dangerous professions - as well as awareness of health and wellbeing in the country's workplaces.

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