Insider’s perspective on workers’ compensation harmony process

Dr Mary Wyatt is an expert on the return-to-work sector in Australia.  She was one of several expert speakers at the harmonisation conference in Melbourne at the end of March 2010.  Her presentation is available online.

Dr Wyatt spoke from a national perspective and has said:

“The data we have tells us compensation system (sic) are not producing good results. Employees with a compensable condition have poorer outcomes than those who have the same condition in a non compensation situation. For example, those who have surgery have four times the odds of a poor outcome when the condition is compensable.”

She also states that

“An individual not back at work at six months has a relatively poor chance of ever returning to work. People who remain out of the workforce in the longer term have significantly increased risk of health problems.”

Given this information it is understandable for her to question the benefits of undertaking harmonisation of a system that seems not to be achieving its aims.

Dr Wyatt echoes many of the concerns voiced by SafetyAtWorkBlog and OHS professionals on the Australian Government’s plans for harmonisation.   The harmonisation of workers’ compensation, as is the OHS reform process, seems to be focusing on the law and not the practice.  Practice does not necessary benefit from new laws but it certainly benefits from new co-ordinated approaches.

The approach advocated by Dr Wyatt fits beautifully with the preventative aims of the many health improvement strategies that the Federal Government is wheeling out.  Focusing on the people, and providing sufficient resources to “repair” people in the most timely fashion, avoids and negates the need for expensive long-term benefits and reduces the numbers of patients with chronic illnesses.

The risk with the workers’ compensation harmonisation is that it is likely to  revolve around matters of premium and insurance rather than the people.  It is absurd for governments to be advocating new training programs and re-skilling when some of the most experienced workers are falling out of the working environment through inadequate rehabilitation resources.

Dr Wyatt pointed out to the conference:

“At the moment, people are mistrustful of workers compensation.  Many people try to avoid lodging a claim because of the system’s reputation.  Employers are increasingly trying to avoid employing people who have a health conditions such as back pain, and the financial bottom line at the policy level seems to be more important than the health of those the system is said to serve.”

The government needs to ask itself whether the effort it plans to put into harmonisation will increase people’s trust of the system, increase the health of those workers in that system and decrease the dominance of premium costs in the business plans of Australian employers.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is a columnist for RTWMatters a website run by Dr Wyatt and her colleagues.

reservoir, victoria, australia

One thought on “Insider’s perspective on workers’ compensation harmony process”

  1. Hi Kevin, From the workers perspective, they have not got a reason to trust anyone involved in the so called RTW management hierarchy. The workers perspective is that everyone is moving with indecent haste, the system is not clear to them and they have no one they can trust to turn to for advice. These are comments I hear from injured workers time and again and from my experience they are right to be concerned, because the \”system\” cares little for their well being let alone any dependents that are relying on them for support.

    What kind of system is it that penalises people for being injured through no fault of their own. Withdrawal of 9% superannuation, no holidays after the expiration of 12 months on the system, reduction in wages (supposedly because you don\’t need the other 20%, because you are not attending work ??)overt harassment by case managers and rehab consultants because they have policy imperatives they must comply with. The list goes on and on, this is the reality of medium to long term injured workers. Trust must be earned and once lost it is hard to get back.

    There isn\’t any compassion or empathy in the management of claims and most importantly a complete lack of positive encouragement by many (not all).

    As far as training programs are concerned, why is the government involved at all?, is this not the responsibility of the employer to ensure that every worker has adequate training for the work undertaken and clearly understands their responsibility to the employer and their fellow workers. Again I say, \”fix it on the factory floor\”.

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