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Body Stressing

What is body stressing?

Body stressing is a collective term covering a broad range of health problems associated with repetitive and strenuous work, and refers to a state of tension that occurs when we overload our bodies. Body stressing is often due to a mix of biomechanical, environmental and psychosocial factors. Psychologically, while some ’stress’ is necessary and critical in our lives for determining how we respond to situations, too much stress can cause imbalance inhibiting our responses. Biomechanically, when the body is subjected to loading greater than tissue can withstand an injury may result.

What causes body stressing?

Body stressing injuries, also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), often develop from combined task-related variables and can arise from hazardous manual tasks. These variables might be mechanical which are related to the performance of the manual task itself (repetitive, forceful or awkward movements, vibration and postures); psychosocial (conflicting job demands, lack of support or resources) or unique to the individual factors (health problems, out of hours demands). MSD can occur suddenly due to a single high force event or from repeated exposure, over time, to lower forces.

In assessing any task we note the causes can have a complex interaction of biomechanical or psychosocial elements and may include:

Cause

Source

Biomechanical

  • Forceful exertions
  • Awkward or static postures
  • Repetitive or sustained movement
  • Vibration
  • Work environment
  • Work practices
  • Individual characteristics

Psychosocial

It's important to note that these causes may impact in combination and that work may not be the only source of risk.

Typical body stressing injuries

Injury may arise through direct (blunt trauma or sudden overload) exposure leading to, for example, a muscle tear or sprain; or, indirect (repeated low loading) exposure leading to the experience of symptoms, that if left untreated, may lead to further degeneration and injury. Typically, body stressing injuries include:

  • sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons
  • back injuries
  • joint and bone injuries or degeneration
  • nerve injuries or compression
  • muscular and vascular disorders from vibration
  • soft tissue hernias
  • chronic pain.

Note: Since body stressing injuries may arise from any combination of factors, and impact uniquely on workers, symptoms arising from a given task related activity may not be universally experienced by all workers undertaking the same task.

Warning signs to be aware of

Workers may experience no symptoms or differing body stressing symptoms for the same work-related activity. It is noted that psychosocial variables and individual factors are as important as the task itself in the pathology of a body stressing disorder. As a general guide only, body stressing injury symptoms may include:

  • muscular pain, sore joints, tingling, burning, inflammation and cramp
  • loss of grip strength
  • reduced mobility
  • feeling overwhelmed at work
  • lack of concentration
  • not being able to complete tasks
  • regular feelings of fatigue
  • sleep disturbance
  • stress and pain affecting mood, work, family and social life.

Mark the following discomfort map to identify your areas of discomfort and pain and use the resources below to take action early.

discomfort map

What should Workers do?

As a worker undertaking a task which may have a risk of body stressing injury, you have an important role to play in identifying those sources of risk that may lead to injury. You can take steps to eliminate or control body stressing hazards and participate in making your own workplace safer by:

  • Talking to someone early if you’re feeling symptoms
    • your manager
    • Human Resources personnel
    • Employee Assistance Program provider
    • Harassment Contact Officer
    • Health and Safety Representative
    • colleagues
    • Family or General Practitioner.
  • Using the Body Stressing Sources of Risk Checklist to assess whether these factors may be a source of body stressing risk for you:
    • work area design and layout
    • systems of work and work organisation
    • loads, tools, machinery and equipment
    • work environment
    • other considerations.
  • Actively seek information, guidance or training on working safely.
  • Use any equipment or tools provided to reduce exposure to body stressing hazards.
  • For work tasks generally and computer based activities specifically, seek advice or assistance to setup your workstation to avoid strain.
  • Depending on the nature of the task, a job safety analysis may help.
  • Take regular breaks—stretching and movement can assist to relieve static loading and fatigue.

What should Managers do?

For any work-related activity that may be undertaken within your team, as a manager, you have an important role[1] to play in dealing with those sources of risk that may lead to ill health or injury.

Within the context of hazardous manual tasks, managers can take steps to eliminate or control body stressing hazards and participate in making your team safer by:

  • using the Body Stressing Sources of Risk Checklist to assess the work undertaken and the environment within which the work is performed
  • consulting with workers undertaking the task and seeking their guidance on ways to manage risk
  • discussing body stressing hazards or concerns you may have and options for risk control measures with the work group health and safety representative (HSR). Importantly, risks identified and control measures applied should be communicated to the health and safety committee for application elsewhere as the hazards and risks identified are rarely confined within a single part of an organisation
  • where necessary modify or alter work practices and duties to reduce risk
  • actively seeking any information, guidance or training on contemporary safety issues and measures to reduce risk
  • where an injury occurs, consult with the injured worker and any involved health professionals to provide support through a rehabilitation program for an early return to work
  • provide any specialised equipment the worker may need to promote their return to work and recovery.

Act now and take 5 minutes for safety. Use the body stressing team talk at your next team meeting and encourage a discussion on the body stressing sources of risk unique to your team.

Use the Body Stressing Sources of Risk Checklist whenever:

  • a change to an existing work area or system of work occurs
  • a new work area or work system is introduced
  • new workers commence in a work area or work system
  • evidence suggests there may be physical or psychosocial issues present in a work area or work system
  • a body stressing injury occurs
  • a worker returns to work following an extended absence or where work reconditioning may be necessary.

What should HSRs do?

For any work-related activity that may be undertaken within your work group, as a HSR, you have an important roleto play in assisting in the review of those sources of risk that may lead to ill health or injury.

Within the context of hazardous manual tasks, HSRs can assist in measures taken to eliminate or control body stressing hazards and participate in making your work group safer by:

  • using the Body Stressing Sources of Risk Checklist to assess the work undertaken and the environment within which the work is performed
  • discussing body stressing hazards or concerns that you may have and importantly suggestions for improvement with the responsible manager and/or health and safety committee
  • actively seeking information, guidance or training on contemporary safety issues and measures to reduce risk
  • letting people in your work group know who you are and how to contact you
  • being impartial by taking an evidence based approach to the issue in question
  • wherever possible, seeking to attend team meetings within your work group to find out the issues workers are experiencing.


Resources

Code of Practice and Regulations

Information Source

Contents

Code of Practice—How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks

Practical guidance for persons who have duties under the WHS Act and Regulations to manage risks to health and safety.

Code of Practice—Hazardous Manual Tasks

Practical guidance for persons under the WHS Act and Regulations on hazardous manual tasks.

Preventing Psychological Injury under WHS Laws (Guidance—Fact Sheet) Safe Work Australia

Practical advice on how to manage psychological risk including Step-by-step Risk Assessment guidance.

Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011
see Chapter 3 General risk and workplace management and Part 4.2 Hazardous Manual Tasks

Detailed requirements to support the duties in the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act.

What is body stressing

Body Stressing: A Risk Management Snapshot

An overview of body stressing and considerations in determining body stressing risk.

Body Stressing Sources of Risk Checklist

A checklist to assist managers, workplace health and safety staff and workers to identify and address risks of body stressing injury.

Body stressing prevention—team talk

A short overview of body stressing prevention that can be used to generate team discussion.

Body stressing—infographic

A visual representation of the key risks, impacts and controls.

Prevention

Comcare Hazardous Manual Tasks

Introduces hazardous manual tasks that may result in a musculoskeletal disorder.

Comcare Psychosocial Hazards

Contains important resources on bullying and work-related mental stress, among other topics. The People at Work resources is highly recommended.

BeUpstanding!

Free resources to assist organisations to implement their own ’move more, sit less’ wellbeing program to combat body stressing risk.

Virtual Office

Information on typical office based hazards and their management.

Rehabilitation case management – first steps

This e-guidance provides managers with an overview of case management concepts.


[1] Work Health and Safety Act 2011, s27-28, 38-39, 47-49, 70-72, 144-145

Page last updated: 20 Aug 2018