Australia behind in dealing with workplace injuries

by Cameron Edmond19 Dec 2013
Workplace related injuries are costing the Australian economy an estimated $60.6bn each year, The Konekt Market Report has found.
 
The report, which studied over 95,000 compensable cases and non-compensable cases. These cases were studied over a five-year period, and found that earlier intervention through treatment and rehabilitation could mitigate this economic cost and result in greater health and return to work outcomes for Australia’s workforce.
 
“One of the key findings of this report is that the earlier a referral is made post injury, the greater the likelihood of a successful return to work,” Matt May, head of product at rehabilitation provider Konekt, said.
 
“Even health problems that are frequently attributed to work – e.g. musculoskeletal and mental health conditions – have been shown to benefit from activity-based rehabilitation and an early return to suitable work,” May explained.
 
To help reduce this cost and increase return to work rates, the Queensland Government implemented the ‘Resolve at Work’ early intervention model for the Public Sector. The Government found that, in addition to reducing the direct costs of statutory claims, investigations and Workers Compensation Premium, early intervention could help mitigate the indirect costs that stem from a reactive stance on workplace injury.
 
These costs include sick leave, staff replacement, turnover, job dissatisfaction, lost productivity, increased conflict, training, poor morale and an increased likelihood of injury.
 
Clinical and organisational psychologist Dr Peter Cotton cited the program as proof more Australian employers need to be proactive in dealing with work related injuries, instead of waiting for formal complaints to be made.
 
“To date this program has saved the Queensland government around $9 million, which gives a return on investment of 1:8,” Cotton explained. “It provides a far better outcome in dealing with cases which could have become psychological injury claims.”
 
The Queensland Government outlined the following benefits as significant once the plan was introduced:
  • Reduced absence/turnover
  • Increased productivity/workplace morale
  • Provides alternatives to resolve formal complaints and grievances, thereby reducing investigation costs/resources
  • Improved maintain-at-work and return-to-work outcomes
  • Reduced workers’ compensation costs
 
The program was overseen by Konekt, indicating the importance of rehabilitation providers becoming involved in the implementation of these plans.
 
While tailored for Queensland, much of the framework of this program is applicable to all workplaces. The program involves a three-tiered approach to intervention:
 
Primary intervention
  • Hazard identification
  • Risk Assessment
  • Controls
  • Monitor and review
 
Secondary intervention
  • Reduce severity of consequences of exposure
  • Respond to early indicators of illness
 
Tertiary intervention
  • *Injury management
  • Rehabilitation
  • Return-to-Work
 
In addition to this, organisations must take a robust approach to managerial commitment and leadership, as well as communication and team work between HR, WHS and Finance. Reporting and evaluation, roles and responsibilities and early identification of distressed workers must be promoted throughout the organisation and at all levels.
 
The need for a faster return to work is made more critical when considering the chances of an individual ever return to work drops over time. Konekt’s research found that if a worker doesn’t return to work after 20 days, the chance of them ever returning is 70%. After 45 days, this drops to 50% and after 70 days it falls to 35%.
 
Key findings
In addition to the heavy costs, the report also yielded the following insights:
  • Musculoskeletal injuries make up 60% of work related injuries.
     
  • Twelve per cent of referrals were for psychological injuries.
     
  • The average age of a worker referred to for rehabilitation is 41.
     
  • Fifty-one per cent of all referrals are for people between 30 and 49 years of age.
     
  • Mental health issues averaged an 84% return to work rate, compared to 89% for other injuries.
 
Do you have a rehabilitation/treatment plan for your employees? Have you ever experienced one yourself? Share your insights and experiences in the comments!
 

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