AUSTRALIAN employers are shouldering the strain of workplace injuries, with back pain estimated to cost $8.15 billion in lost earnings and productivity.
The Konekt Market Report studied more than 113,000 workers compensation claims over six years and found that musculoskeletal injuries was the largest category.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, $5.7 billion was spent on musculoskeletal conditions between 2008 and 2009 with $1.18 billion spent on back issues.
Konekt product manager Nicholas Ward says a cost-of-illness study estimated indirect costs associated with lower back pain to be worth $8.15 billion in losses.
"Last financial year saw an increase in the number of referrals being made relating to back injuries," Ward says.
"While the total number of claims is decreasing and the average time lost associated with back strain injuries halved between 2001 and 2001 and 2010 and 2011, alarmingly we noticed an increase in the average delay from when an injury occurs to when it is reported and then referred for support and return to work services."
Data showed small and medium employers are covering higher rehabilitation costs, while small employers are waiting 114 weeks on average to refer employees to specialists.
"We found that the return to work rate for small business is 85 per cent compared with 90 per cent for large businesses," Ward says.
"Smaller businesses are less likely to have internal expertise in relation to injury management and will be more reliant on external providers."
The Konekt Market Report also showed males aged between 30 and 39 had the highest rate of back injuries at 65 per cent and were more likely to report them.
While back injury claims made increased from 33 per cent to 39 per cent in the last 10 years.
Director of University of Sydney Medical School Musculoskeletal Division Professor Chris Maher says employers should become educated about the condition.
"We know that the worker with back pain, their employer and the clinician managing the worker's back pain may misunderstand back pain, so we really need to think about educational programs targeting each of those groups," Maher says.
"Our understanding of how to best manage back pain has changed in the last decade.
"For example, surgery has a quite limited role for workers with back pain.
"The contemporary approach is don't go to bed rather try to stay physically active.
"You don't need an x-ray and you should try to remain at work."
Maher says prevention is the best way to manage back pain, and recommends avoiding smoking, having a healthy diet and exercising.
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