Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health


School of Exercise and Health Science


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jacques Oosthuizen


Prison Officers (POs) involved in high need offender management frequently face risks that could affect their health, safety and wellbeing. Several studies have shown that direct client centred violence, inadequate management systems and the general nature of prison environments are major factors impacting on the well being of POs (Fisher & Gunnison, 2001; Kiekbusch, Price, & Theis, 2003; Mitchell, Mackenzie, Styve, & Gover, 2000).There is limited literature on causes and effects of physical injuries on this group of law enforcements officers. This is the first study conducted in Western Australia (WA) that investigated the causes and effects of physical injuries to POs and the impacts thereof on these individuals and the Department of Corrective Services (DCS) as an organisation. The study aimed to provide a recent credible data source which may influence policy decisions and procedures in WA corrective institutions. The study cohort of 146 POs completed a questionnaire that included variables, such as health and fitness, job demands, support and constraints to ascertain the causes and effects of physical injuries among this high risk cohort of workers. The age range of POs included in the study cohort (N = 146) was 21 - 71 years. In addition, all Department of Correctional Services (DCS) physical injuries databases from 2008 to 2010 were analysed and managers and employee welfare services staff completed a questionnaire. The results indicated that there is a positive relationship between current employment status and work related physical injuries as measured over the last two years. The major causes of physical injuries were from slips trips and falls and hitting objects with part of the body or against objects during the process of managing non compliant prisoners. Variables such as physical fitness, job demands, lack of recognition by society, and fear of blood borne infections were significant predictors of physical injuries amongst POs. However, a number of other risk factors, including age and body mass index (BMI), were not related to the prevalence of physical injuries. There are a number of recommendations from the study that can be implemented. These include formation of accident/incident investigation work groups to conduct and analyse incidents and propose long term preventive and corrective measures. In order to improve ways of dealing with mentally ill prisoners and the training curriculum of POs should include management of mentally ill prisoners in a prison setting. In dealing with the aging population affecting the Australian workforce, DCS should develop plans to attract young POs for succession planning. Comprehensive safe physical training and maintenance programs in prisons may benefit the POs in dealing with prisoners. Areas for future research may include; the role of mental health services in reducing physical harm in prisons and minimising the causes and effects of physical injuries to the prison frontline workforce.

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