Last year 28% of injured workers surveyed throughout Australia and New Zealand were not in paid employment six months after lodging a workers' compensation claim. Durable return to work rates have been falling consistently for the past three years with last year showing the lowest rates since the survey began in 1997/98.
These statistics are drawn from the Heads of Workers' Compensation Authorities' annual Return To Work Monitor 2008/09 released on 31 August, however the report is not as rich a source of information as it could be, given that - with the exception of Tasmania - none of the states have chosen to publicly release a year-by-year comparison of their return to work performance.
Dr Mary Wyatt, occupational physician and editor of Return To Work Matters, an online resource for employers and RTW professionals, said:
"Return to work, where appropriate, is vital in helping employees to recover their health and reduce the ongoing financial and emotional costs to them and their employer. Yet despite the importance of return to work, we discovered that reviewing the state and system outcomes using the Monitor report data is no easy task.
"With the worst return to work rates for injured workers in over a decade, and politicians talking up the power of partnerships, why aren't the states opting for transparent reporting?
"We commend Workplace Standards Tasmania for their transparency and invite other states and authorities to follow suit" said Dr Wyatt. "It is important for the community to know whether measures to improve return to work put in place by policymakers are actually working to improve the rates of return to work."
RTWMatters.org believes detailed, state-by-state information should be available to all stakeholders in an accessible, user-friendly format.
In an attempt to bridge the gap, RTWMatters.org is analysing data from the last four Return To Work Monitor publications and publishing an in-depth series of reports on return to work results, insurer performance, rehabilitation involvement and workplace factors by each state / jurisdiction, highlighting how performance changes over time.
Across Australia, the average rate of durable return to work has steadily declined over the last three years. Between 2005-06 and 2008-09 the durable return to work rate is down by 8% (80% to 72%)
Victoria's durable rates have dropped by 8% in the last year (77% to 69%)
NSW has had a 9% fall in the durable return to work rate over three years (81% to 72%)
Queensland has had an 8% fall in durable return to work rates over the last three years (81% to 73%)
Only South Australia has improved the rate of durable return to work in the last 12 months, improving its previous poor performance with the rate up by 7% and now equal to the national average performance.
Comcare and Tasmania consistently perform above the national average.
The team at Return To Work Matters will use this information to help inform employers, RTW coordinators and management who may be struggling to coordinate and manage successful return to work.