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WorkSafeBC takes aim at back strain injuries

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

Women working in health care occupations in British Columbia accounted for the largest share of back strain injuries between 2003 and 2012, newly released statistics from WorkSafeBC show.

WorkSafeBC Statistics 2012 found that although health and medicine occupations were the third largest contributor to back strain injury claims overall between 2003 and 2012, they accounted for the largest share of back strain injury claims for women at 31 per cent. For men, this proportion was only three per cent, said the Aug. 12 report, which explored data on back strain injuries from the last 30 years to shine a spotlight on an area of injury that affects thousands of provincial workers each year.

Of those women in the health and medicine sectors experiencing back strain injury, the single largest occupation was nurse aides and orderlies, accounting for almost one-half of the total number of women filing claims (at 46 per cent).

The second- and third-largest occupations were registered nurses and registered nursing assistants, accounting for another 27 and 17 per cent respectively.

“A distinguishing characteristic of the social services and nursing occupations was the proportion of back strain injury resulting from acts of violence or force,” the report went on to say. “Between 2003 and 2012, of total back strain injury claims for social services and nursing occupations, about nine and seven per cent, respectively, resulted from an act of violence or force — compared to less than one per cent for all other occupations.”

Bonnie Pearson, the secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union in Burnaby, B.C., said that the data reflects what members working in hospitals and residential care facilities tell the union when talking about workload issues and risk of injury.

“Patient-to-staff aggression and violence has been a concern in acute and residential care for years, and the fact that WorkSafeBC considers these ‘distinguishing characteristics’ when it comes to health care injuries is telling,” Pearson said. “Part of the solution to reducing workplace injuries, and acts of force and violence, is to have enough staff on shift to do the work properly and safely.”

She added that back strain injuries to health care workers are most likely to occur when assisting and handling patients due to the lifting, bending and exertion involved in daily work routines.

The report also found that between 2003 and 2012:

* Between 12,000 and 15,000 workers were affected by back strain injuries each year;

* About 20 per cent of all work days lost were due to back strain injuries — more than any other injury type;

* About 18 per cent of all claim costs were for back strain injuries.

* In 2012, women accounted for nearly 40 per cent of all back strain injury claims — up from 15 per cent in 1980;

 Together, the health care and social assistance subsectors and retail trade accounted for 30 per cent of back strain injury claims — consistent with the provincial shift away from primary industries and manufacturing to the services-producing sector.