Back on the job

by 03 Apr 2007

When workers are injured on the job, legislation requires employers to have a rehabilitation and return to work program in place. Carole Goldsmith looks at recent developments in the field and speaks with safety and risk managers about such programs

The Heads of Workers’ Compensation Authorities group publishes an annual return to work report, which looks at trends in workers’ compensation and rehabilitation across Australia and New Zealand. The latest report, which took in 3,014 injured workers who had ten days or more of compensation paid, found the return to work rate for 2005/06 was 87 per cent – up from 76 per cent in 2004/05.

Returning to work at Ronstan

Communication is the key to the return to work program at Ronstan, a manufacturer of sailboat hardware and architectural rigging systems. With offices across the globe, Ronstan is headquartered in Sandringham Victoria with a total of 166 employees.

“Safety and management of our OHS is a team effort,” says operations manager, Tim Melville. “We take the matter seriously and we are constantly investing in ensuring preventative measures are put in place for everyone’s safety.”

“In the short term, when people are injured, off work and on rehabilitation, their duties are covered by their department. In longer-term situations, we would look at bringing in casual staff to cover until the employee was able to return to work,”Melville says.

The company has a program to ensure any injured worker can return to work by working closely with rehabilitation consultants, he says. Ronstan’s return to work co-ordinator, Con Glibatsas, manages the program. “Suitable work is offered that is acceptable to all parties. If employees are in the return to work program, their doctors are invited to come and inspect to ensure the job is suitable,” Melville says.

The company has had zero lost time injuries for the past 15 months. “This is because we work closely with the workforce, doctors and medical advisors. Our active OHS committee meet regularly to discuss and review any issues and at all times staff are working together for the benefit of everyone.”

Having a good rehabilitation program is valuable for both employer and employee, as it establishes a line of communication and direction between both parties to ensure the employee’s rehabilitation is supervised and that they return to work as soon as they can, Melville says.

A port of safety

Port of Brisbane recently introduced a ‘Safety First’awareness program. With 284 employees, the organisation has a safety and risk management team of four – three of whom are WorkCover accredited rehabilitation providers.

“Our ‘Safety First’ behavioural change campaign helps us promote the importance of working safely, and aims to make safety relevant to every employee, whether in the field, in the office, or at home,” says Richard Eva, Port of Brisbane’s manager of safety and risk management.

To date, ‘Safety First’ has delivered positive results, with only three lost time injuries related to safety incidents to permanent employees, occurring during 2005/06, Eva says. “Our ultimate goal is zero lost time injuries.”

The safety and risk management team works hard to identify emerging issues and potential risks, he adds. A policy of early intervention is in place for all injuries, regardless of whether they are sustained at work or outside working hours.

Should an employee sustain an injury at work, they are immediately taken to the doctor and accompanied by one of the WorkCover-accredited rehabilitation co-ordinators, Eva says. Following this, the organisation works with them and their supervisor to develop a suitable duties plan, which is signed off by their doctor.

“We closely monitor their progress. If the injured employee is away from work for some time, the appointed rehabilitation co-ordinator has weekly contact.”