Managing risk

Jodi Oakman, from the College of Science, Health and Engineering, has developed a toolkit to manage musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace

By Dr Giselle Roberts

“Most of us have aches and pains that come and go,” says ergonomist, Dr Jodi Oakman. “It becomes a problem when they stay with us and start impacting our work or social lives.”

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), including back, neck and shoulder pain, are the largest occupational health and safety problem in Australia, costing around $24 billion dollars a year.

They are caused by physical hazards such as lifting, pushing and pulling. Psychosocial hazards, Oakman notes, are also a significant factor. “These include how much support a person receives from supervisors or colleagues, how much training they are offered, and the degree of control they have over what they do at work.”

While the evidence base for the psychosocial impact of MSDs is strong, it’s received little attention in current prevention strategies, until now. Oakman has developed a toolkit to assist workplaces to manage the problem.

“A Participative Approach to Hazard Identification and Risk Management toolkit (APHIRM) is a resource that addresses, for the first time, both the physical and psychosocial hazards associated with MSDs,” says Oakman.

The toolkit is available online and has been implemented in a range of industries, from aged care to local councils. Over 50 practitioners and regulators have been trained in the use of APHIRM.

“Our vision is to help workplaces to tackle MSD prevention more effectively through the use of the APHIRM toolkit,” says Oakman. “Our research aims to reduce MSD risk and, ultimately, reduce the number of worker compensation claims.”

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