Ensuring the safe and timely return to work is paramount in workers’ compensation claims. Following the passing of the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, the landscape of workers’ compensation in New South Wales has significantly changed.
Related Story: Important changes to workers' compensation in NSW
According to risk expert Mark Cassidy from 2Crisk, there following are the top 10 ways HR professionals can improve the outcomes of workers compensation outcomes.
1. Clear job descriptions and job task analysis (JTA) are critical
Being able to clearly identify the physical and psychological components of an occupation is critical to any rehabilitation process. The JTA forms the foundation of any graduated return to work program (GRTW) and can greatly assist the treating medical practitioner in developing an effective return to work program in consultation with the return to work coordinator. The JTA ensures that that the pre-injury department is involved in the GRTW program and places clear focus on what the worker can do, rather than what they cannot.
2. Use of pre-employment medicals
Pre-existing conditions have the potential to derail any GRTW program and in some instances, may be the originating source of the injury, exacerbated by the occupational tasks. De-constructing what is work related and what is not quite often leads to animosity in the injured worker, who usually associates their injury with what happened at work, rather than the claim determination requirements.
For injured workers with non-work related conditions such as diabetes, obesity, arthritis and other degenerative conditions, managing these in the context of a work related claim for compensation becomes very difficult and can lead to extended periods of rehabilitation. Identifying an employee’s health status should ideally start prior to being hired so that if required, a health management plan can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of injury or exacerbation due to the work environment.
If there is one key issue injured workers raise in post-return to work surveys, it is that they felt communication was poor and that they were often left out of the loop. Disempowering anyone is always fraught with danger as the natural response is to withdraw. In the return to work environment, this will inevitably lead to poor outcomes and demotivated workers. The first conversation with the worker is critical and forms the foundation of what will occur during any rehabilitation program. It helps manage expectations and set a standard for what will be communicated and when.
Ongoing communication should involve all of the key stakeholders, including management, the GP, allied health providers and insurers, but must start and finish with the injured worker themselves.
4. Do not leave any injured worker at home and out of contact
Carrying on from “Communication”, isolated workers are more likely to experience difficulties in returning to work. We know from studies that the longer someone is off work, the less likely it is they will return.
We are, after all, creatures of habit. Workers are used to being at work, interacting with their colleagues and mates, collecting pay slips, interacting with management and the more this is removed, the more difficult it is to reinstate. If you have injured workers who are housebound for medical reasons, have someone visit them on a regular basis and this should include not just their peers, but management. It shows clear commitment and concern and issues can be addressed as they arise, rather than being allowed to get worse.
Many an injured worker has become angry at an inadvertent loss of pay slips or a lost invite to the Christmas party. This paves the way for animosity to develop and hamper a return to work.
5. Commence a gradual return to work as soon as possible
Going to work on a daily basis is a completely normal activity for all of us. Just because someone is injured, does not mean that this activity should cease, rather it should, under medical supervision, be modified to accommodate injured worker’s needs. This may include working in other areas of the organisation such as administration or to direct modifications in the workplace such as accommodating someone with a leg or arm in plaster. More often than not, the pre-injury department is best placed to offer this, as they will have a better appreciation of the injured workers skills and may be able to use this time for training or other skills development.