Taxpayers are shelling out millions of dollars a year for workplace injuries in Taranaki including sprained ankles, strained wrists and bruised eye sockets, latest figures show.
Soft tissue injuries – defined as anything not involving broken bones, burns and puncture wounds – are the most costly form of workplace injury, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) said.
It received more than 3000 claims from Taranaki between January and the end of November 2016, costing $10.7 million.
Over the period from July 2011 to June 2016, the ACC has paid out $45,822,320 for soft tissue claims, including over $44,000 on nose injuries and $1,669,078 for hand and wrist problems, with the cost increasing annually.
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“Hopefully the increase in claims has also to a modest degree been due to ACC’s efforts to make the public, as well as health professionals, more aware that ACC is here to help people meet the costs of having their injuries treated,” ACC spokesman James Funnell said.
“Obviously it would be great if people were so safety conscious that they didn’t hurt themselves at work or at home, but we are a no-fault scheme that was set up to help everyone who hurts themselves in New Zealand.”
Last year, the highest average cost was in the transportation industry, with ACC spending $1.4m on 325 active claims – an average of $4382 per claim.
Construction workers came in a close second. There were 1035 active claims from the sector during the same period, a total of more than $4m, with the average claim standing at $3930.
Even those working in government and council jobs in the region managed to incur soft tissue injuries during the period, with 43 active claims costing a total of $34,396.
While soft tissue injuries occur from a number of factors, Jessica Clout, senior occupational health nurse of Working for Health Ltd in New Plymouth, said the most common were back and ankle strains.
“We are also seeing quite a lot of hand, arm and shoulder injuries, often a result of repetitive tasks, and many of these are from more sedentary roles like office work,” she said.
Though these injuries may appear to be relatively minor, they could become relatively serious and cost a substantial amount to recover from, Clout explained.
“I think the burden of soft tissue injuries on ACC, businesses and individuals is huge in New Zealand.
“And there is also the non-monetary costs to think about as well.
“It’s so sad when I work with individuals who have ended up with ongoing issues such as recurring back pain from a one-off event, like lifting something too heavy at work, and you know that they aren’t going to be able do all the things they want to in their retirement years.”
Clout suggested employers ensure workers remain “job fit”.
Devina Jones, occupational health nurse manager of Bell Block’s Exploration Solutions, echoed Clout’s advice.
She urged employees to take “micro-pauses” and maintain a fitness routine outside of the workplace to help combat potential injuries.
Jones said in her experience the number of soft tissue injuries was on the decline as more employers implemented preventative measures.
“We don’t see as many as we used to because a lot of employers are training staff in how to avoid soft tissue injuries,” she said.
“There’s a lot of businesses doing a variety of fitness challenges that task employees to sleep for at least seven hours, eat five cups of fruit or vegetables a day, and count the number of steps they take in a day.
“It all comes down to being proactive with fitness and training.”