Workplace injuries cost the Australian economy $62 billion each year, and employers fork out approximately $12.4 billion of this figure. The cost to organisations come from direct injury costs, insurance premium hikes, lost productivity and the need to find additional staff to fill the role vacated by an injured employee. As such, injury prevention plays a crucial role in improving the bottom line for businesses.
The most consistent predictor of physical injury at work is, in fact, previous injury. That is, those who have been injured before are more likely to succumb to injury again, regardless of the treatments utilised. In addition to previous injury, inadequate conditioning for the activity one is performing is another common predictor of injury. These two key risk factors for injury are the driving force behind why physiotherapists are so pedantic about addressing the root cause of the problem as opposed to simply treating the presenting symptoms when they arise.
If we know that previous injury and inadequate conditioning are the two most influential predictors of injury, then they should be at the fore of workplace injury prevention strategies. The most effective way to address these factors is at the recruitment level, because once an injured or unconditioned employee is employed, it is too late to act proactively, and the risk of injury is far greater. Thus, the emphasis becomes on ensuring that the prospective employee is physically fit enough for the job.
The most effective way to achieve this is via a job-specific work fitness assessment. Such an assessment involves a musculoskeletal assessment of a prospective employee to determine whether they have the physical capabilities to safely perform the job they are applying for.
While this approach might appear to be harsh for those employees who fail a work fitness assessment, it is actually better for all in the long run. As mentioned above, injuries cost employers $12.4 billion each year. Comparatively, injured employees are responsible for paying approximately $45 billion each year. These costs accumulate by way of lost income, medical expenses, legal costs and injury support payments. As such, employment based on the results of work fitness assessments has the best interests of both employees and employers in mind.
Job-specific work fitness assessments provide an ethical and effective means of saving costs on workplace injuries. They effectively reduce the risk of workplace injury by objectively selecting only those who are physically fit enough for the job. The savings to organisations here are obvious. Furthermore, they help to foster an ethical culture whereby employee health is paramount, because the consequences for prospective employees in taking a job they are physically incapable of performing are likely to be drastic for their personal and professional lives long-term.
Jordan Lees is the founder and director of Employ Fit, a national consulting team of occupational health physiotherapists.