EMPLOYERS MUST provide support for workers soon after they’ve being injured and avoid an adversarial approach to recovery, according to recent research.
Most workers suffering long-term injuries are either left hopeless or seeking revenge due to a lack of support at work, said Lynette Guy, of the WorkCover NSW Research Centre of Excellence in Newcastle University.
“Support from employers and the insurance companies is critical,” she said. “Early intervention can save a lot of angst and money because it can help the person to recover, reducing lost time and avoiding litigation.”
The research found workers with chronic injuries fell into one of three groups. The primary group were those who were disempowered over time, and remained disabled, depressed and unemployed as a result of interactions with the system and with others, including with those in the workplace, the insurers and treating professionals.
The second group were angry and intent on revenge and were focused on seeking validation and revenge through litigation systems.
The only ones who were able to become empowered to regain employment and a future biography were those who did receive adequate support and were not alienated by interactions with others, either in the workplace, during treatments or with insurance or agent communications, said Guy.
“Proper training of insurance company staff can make a difference, as does the training of workplace supervisors. Ultimately, the employer is often in the best position to help an injured person return to work but it’s a sad irony that this is where the alienation often begins.”
Although chronic disability from musculoskeletal conditions only affects 20 per cent of cases, it accounts for 80 per cent of the average worker’s compensation costs, said Guy. As a result, the need to investigate the barriers to successful management of these cases arose.
The research that included interviews with chronic pain patients undergoing workplace based rehabilitation as well as medical specialists found that only the minority of people with chronic work-related injuries belong to the empowered group.
Speaking at a recent safety conference in Sydney, Guy said the consequences of living with chronic injury go beyond the medical diagnosis, “and are shaped by your socioeconomic status and whether you have support from your family, work and friends. The interactions with the workplace, insurance companies, lawyers and health professionals are also instrumental.”