The link between workplace stressors and physical injury

Research question

How do mental and emotional health factors influence the risk of injury amongst workers?

What is this research about?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most common work-related harms in that can have long-term, costly impacts for businesses and workers.  In NSW, workers who acquire a MSD need on average 17 weeks off work (time lost). The average cost of an injury claim is $32,774 (State Insurance Regulation Authority, ND).

Research shows that there are physical, psychosocial and organisational causal factors in the workplace that may drive the presence and severity of risk factors for a hazardous manual task. It is recognised that these causal factors are interrelated and can impact upon each other.  Bailey et al. (2015), for example, showed that an organization's mental health or emotional wellbeing situation can predict the amount of times injuries happen amongst employees over the next 12 months. It was found to occur with body, mental health and emotional wellbeing of a person.

Noting these interrelated causal factors, evidence suggests that workplace risk assessment processes are often not enough. People with work health and safety (WHS) responsibilities may be unable to do regular checks of mental and emotional wellbeing of their employees. This is risky and adds to injury amongst workers. (Oakman, Clune, & Stuckey, 2019).

Further, while information on injury prevention exists, workers and businesses are still unsure of how to apply this information in the different work situations. This is a challenge for WHS experts and regulators in starting, promoting and using best practice injury prevention.

What will the researchers do?

This research program consists of three main projects:

Project 1 - Literature review

In Project 1, the researchers will conduct a literature reviews to update a previous review Psychosocial work stressors as antecedents of musculoskeletal problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis of stability-adjusted longitudinal studies (Lang, Ochsmann, Kraus, & Lang, 2012).

Articles published after 2009 will be considered, as the previous review by Lang et al (2012) reviewed literature published up to this point.

The literature review will focus on the peer-reviewed scientific literature and any relevant grey or unpublished literature pertaining to the nexus between workplace psychosocial factors and musculoskeletal disorders.

Research partners and stakeholders

University of Newcastle

Project 2 - Qualitative study

In Project 2, the researchers will:

  • Identify tools, approaches and guidance materials to support comprehensive MSD prevention.
  • Develop a catalogue of MSD prevention tools.
  • Explore barriers and enablers to the implementation of comprehensive MSD prevention tools in a range of industry settings.
  • Explore the intervention strategies being used in different industries.
Research partners and stakeholders

Latrobe University

Project 3 - Cross Sectional Study

The researcher will study a sample group of participants to assess the incidence of workplace behaviours and physical factors that may lead to the occurrence of a workplace injury in NSW.

Research partners and stakeholders

University of South Australia


Project commenced: February 2020

Project completion: March 2021

Want to know more?

To work with the Centre, or stay up to date with our research, head to our Engage with us page.

Further reading

Bailey, T., Dollard, M., McLinton, S., & Richards, P. (2015). Psychosocial safety climate, psychosocial and physical factors in the aetiology of musculoskeletal disorder symptoms and workplace injury compensation claims. Work & Stress, 190-211.

Oakman, J., Clune, S., & Stuckey, R. (2019). Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Australia. Canberra: Safe Work Australia.

State Insurance Regulation Authority. (ND). NSW Workers’ Compensation Claims data: Major MSD and injury claims 2013-14 to 2015-16. Sydney: NSW Government.