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Stephen  Bevan

Fit for Work Down Under

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

14 May 2012

The influence of Fit for Work research now extends far beyond Europe with our study of MSDs in Australia published on 13 May at the annual conference of the Australian Rheumatology Association in Canberra. Despite having been hit less severely by the economic crisis, the Australian labour market is still being affected and it is timely to take a look at the effect of musculoskeletal conditions on the workforce.

Our research showed that:

  • Almost 2.2 million (14.7 per cent) of working age Australians report a disability and almost a quarter of them experience profound or severe core activity limitations.
    It is estimated that people with chronic conditions in Australia are 60 per cent less likely to participate in the labour market.
  • Work-related injuries and diseases cost the Australian economy $57.5 billion in 2005-2006, representing 5.9 per cent of GDP. At least 43 per cent of all work-related injury/disease compensation claims resulted from cases of MSDs.
    Up to 31.9 per cent of Disability Support Pension claims result from musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders.
  • It is estimated that MSDs cost the Australian health care system almost $4.6 billion a year.
    Back pain, back problems and disc disorders are very common complaints in Australia, affecting nearly 2.8 million people, or 14 per cent of the Australian population.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the second most prevalent form of arthritis in Australia, affecting at least 2 per cent of the population and accounting for 4 per cent of the total expenditure on MSDs.
  • Only 31 per cent of those with RA are in full-time employment, compared to 53 per cent of the general population in Australia.

As with our research in many other countries, we found that earlier diagnosis and intervention could help more Australian workers with MSDs to remain in our return to work and that work participation and productivity – as well as quality of life – could be improved through more ‘joined-up’ effort between government, healthcare professionals and employers. We are hopeful that policy-makers and opinion-leaders across Australia will heed our messages and redouble their efforts to prioritise work as a clinical outcome for workers with MSDs.

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