Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Safe Work Australia have recently released statistics on work related musculoskeletal disorders. These statistics were drawn from Safe Works Australia’s National Data Set for Compensation Based Statistics. This data is a collection of workers compensation statistics from around Australia.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are an injury to or a disease of, the musculoskeletal system. This may occur over time or happen suddenly. (MSDs) do not include injuries that occur because of cutting, crushing and entrapment (such as dislocations and fractures).

MSDs can occur either by gradual wear and tear to muscles, ligaments, joints and inter-vertebral discs or continuous and repeated use of the same body parts. Work related MSDs can also be caused through sudden or unexpected movements or by strenuous activity. Injuries can also be caused by a combination of both, for example, ligaments that have been weakened through repeated movements are vulnerable to sudden injury by an unexpected force.

These work related injuries include conditions such as;

  1. Vascular and muscular injuries resulting from extended exposure to vibration.
  2. Back injuries, including conditions affecting joints, nerves, spinal discs, muscles and tendons.
  3. Strains and sprains affecting tendons, ligaments and muscles.
  4. Bone and joint injuries, including ankle, knee, hip, wrist, elbow, shoulder, feet and hands.
  5. Nerve injuries (e.g., carpal tunnel conditions)
  6. Chronic pain
  7. Soft tissue hernias


Statistics show over a five year period between 2009 and 2014 there were a total of 360,180 serious MSD claims in Australia. The most common injury were soft tissue disorders (29 per cent), trauma to tendons or muscles (21 per cent), and trauma to ligaments and joints (14 per cent). These injuries over this period remained relatively stable compared to equivalent data over a 14 year period.

Between 2009 and 2014 the median cost of serious MSD claims increased by 59 per cent from $5,600.00 in 2000 to $8,900.00 in 2013. Over this same period the median time lost from work for all serious claims increased by 35 per cent from 4.3 weeks to 5.8.

Labourers accounted for the highest amount of serious MSD claims over this five year period. They accounted for 24 per cent of claims and had the highest number of claims per million hours worked (11.3 claims per million hours worked) Labourers include food process workers, cleaners, farm, forestry, construction and mining workers.

Other occupations that had high frequency rates were community and personal service workers (9.5 claims per million hours worked) and machinery operators and drivers (8.4). Community and personal service workers include health and welfare support workers, prison and security officers, hospital workers, defense, fire fighters and police.

The majority of serious claims (63 per cent) were due to body stressing. This occurs when ligaments, tendons, muscles or bones are placed under stress. This can occur over time or be caused by a single traumatic event. Most of these injuries were caused by muscular stress when carrying, lifting, putting down or handling awkward or heavy objects. Manual handling equipment such as trolleys and powered pallet trucks can help assist workers in moving heavy loads.

Twenty three per cent of serious MSD claims were caused by falls, trips or slips. The majority of these were caused by falls on the same level while 24 per cent were due to falls from height. Platform step ladders allow workers to safely work and pick orders from elevated heights.

Almost one in three serious MSD injuries involved the back. Other common problem areas include the shoulder (16 per cent), the knee (13 per cent) and the ankle (6 per cent).