Safety professionals must understand RTW in order to avoid unnecessary costs

The rationale for the Australian government’s evangelism of harmonisation is the reduction of “red-tape” on the logic, or assumption, that business costs will also be reduced.  Dr Mary Wyatt, according to a report on ABC News Online, says that cost reductions may be possible be reducing over-servicing of injured workers.

Dr Wyatt says:

“We have an increasing focus on the medicine, and we have lots of scans that tell us there are things wrong with our bodies, and then when those scans are done it’s often labelled as a serious problem, and then the worker gets worried and we often go off on a tangent..”

Diagnostic scan options have expanded considerably and, although there is a risk of too many or too frequent scans, few patients will refuse the offer of a scan if there is a chance it will assist the doctor in making a more through diagnosis.  Dr Wyatt’s point that the risk of all of this treatment could generate increased concern in the patient, or injured worker, is an issue that OHS professionals need to consider when establishing a relationship with a service provider and when auditing their performance.

The fact that the company indirectly pays for medical treatment through workers’ compensation insurance should not mean that the company also should not audit the insurance or medical providers.  Some States in Australia do not provide the option of changing insurance providers in workers’ compensation as one can on other insurance types but this restriction is being reviewed.

Dr Wyatt provides a useful justification for a coordinated approach to worker rehabilitation by reiterating

“Some years ago there was work done, and it said that the cost is borne equally: one-third by the employee who has the injury, one-third by the employer, and one-third by the community…”

Those employers associations who repeatedly raise the issue of business costs should bear in mind that the employee is contributing just as much to their treatment, and that there is a social cost of injury.

The article paraphrases Dr Wyatt and reinforces the OHS principle that prevention is more effective than treatment through an example:

“….many repetitive strain type injuries could be addressed by ergonomic improvements or altering an employee’s duties when mild pain first arises, rather than treating them later on through an expensive chain of scans and rehabilitation.”

Dr Wyatt is one of the few professionals who attended the first conference on Australia’s harmonisation of workers’ compensation laws to speak openly and to encourage debate on important social, industrial and commercial issues.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is a regular columnist with RTWMatters a website which is associated with Dr Mary Wyatt

reservoir, victoria, australia

5 thoughts on “Safety professionals must understand RTW in order to avoid unnecessary costs”

  1. Thanks for the response Kevin. I would agree with you regarding the \”circle of continuous improvement\” and you may well be right from the development of policy, guidelines and the like and yes I do think in a very straight line when it comes to OHS. I think you could label me as a \”fundamentalist\”. Our legislators have spent huge volumes of time effort and money putting into place well considered legislation enacted to look after the interests of workers and their safety. Legislation has been reviewed from the workers compensation aspect, but changes to OHS safety legislation is still fundamentally unchanged from 1986 apart from a few amendments.

    My \”Fundamentalist\” position is based on the absolute need for all employers to comply with OHS law as the first element of improving safety in the work place the legislation and regulation is clear yet the very large majority of employers are ignoring their responsibility and in effect breaking the law with impunity to the great cost of many injured workers.

    I am more than happy to be challenged by anyone who can show me my view of current compliance is wrong.

    When I deal with individual organisations advising on OHS and workers compensation matters, the first thing I check is compliance and then employee safety induction and knowledge matters, before entering into any further systems or policy development. all based on the need to have the fundamentals right.

    The management process within the professional community is another thing entirely and is complex within the many layers of interaction required and it is here, that I think there is a potential problem for the compensating authorities identifying that which is really needed and that which has attached itself, much like the \”Remora\” fish for the ride.

    My concern is for the MACRO priorities as it is here, in my opinion, the greatest number of advances can be made in the shortest period of time for the benefit of all. The fine tuning (micro priorities) of the systems for the longer term is a matter for others, as we can\’t be all things to all people and I am far to old to make much of a dent there.

  2. Kevin the WorkCover industry is both linear and circular, injured workers do all they can in a linear fashion to return to normal,however the WorkCover industry creates the circular process because it needs to keep X number of injured workers churning through the system so as to create the image that the workCover system is complex when in actuallity the process is very basic.

    Support put in place for the injured workers from day one of the injury would reduce the number of long-tail claims, return to community again would reduce the number of long-tail claims.

    Work Injured Resource Connection has a programme that gives support and returns injured workers to the community, but unlike the mainstream \”churning\” of injured workers the process is linear so injured workers do not generate the income that the mainstream industry needs to jusitfy its own industry.

    Simple, basic and logical.

  3. Rosemary is right on the money with her response and I entirely agree with her. The words \”Duty of Care\” come immediately to mind and it is patently obvious to us who deal with the system on a daily basis that those charged with managing the system do not understand the concept at best, or simply ignore their obligation to the provision of a service charged with the \”Effective Rehabilitation of workers\” and that means to ensure their medical needs are met as a priority and then a return to the community is effected with medical advice followed by RTW also on medical advice.

    Everything else should follow as a matter of course but we know this is not the case and it points to the cause of the problem and that is the appalling management of the system, particularly in South Australia.

    I keep seeing the two exclusive areas of OHS mixed and I have to say it is very annoying and the mixing denies emphasis in each of those exclusive areas:

    1. Injury prevention is an exclusive environment and is governed by its own legislation. While it may rely on information that is garnered from the workers compensation statistics and experience to assist in its management, it should not be managed in conjunction with workers compensation as workers compensation only comes into play when there has been a failure in the Injury prevention. Injury prevention is critical to the success of all parts of the system and the way it has been run by successive governments and departments is an abject failure, the statistics do not lie.

    2. Workers Compensation is completely focused on effective RTW which must go through a well managed and empathetic process to ensure that the injured worker is encouraged positively to hasten his recovery in a reasonable manner, remembering the worker is injured in the main through no fault of his own and from the outset is not feeling very happy about the situation, possibly because his/her employer has not provided a safe workplace thus the injury. This is the case with a large number of injury claims.

    By far the larger number of injured workers are ill informed about both 1 & 2 and ignorance in these matters creates an atmosphere of distrust and this is coupled with the stigma attached being a recipient of workers compensation, so the starting point of any claim is not healthy and in many cases deteriorates rapidly from that point on exacerbated by appalling case and rehabilitation management.

    It all smells a bit like an exercise in \”deflection\” to move things around the deck and avoid addressing the real problems which are caused in the first instance by people not complying with the law. So more conferences, talk fests, marvelous articles and research all basically telling us what we already know or ought to know

    I have seen some marvelous product innovations in the both fields of OHS, preventative and rehabilitation in particular, relating to back injury prevention and rehabilitation, they are in the field and working usually after all medical options have been exhausted and being ignored in many cases because of so called cost when if the products had been applied or investigated in the first instance the cost of claims would have been dramatically reduced. Private enterprise in the area of injury prevention products should be positively encouraged to present new innovation and if it happens to be a patented product so be it and if it is Australian even better. The same should apply to products developed to assist in rehabilitation.

    Why do I mention products. Workcover Corporation regularly asks for applications for grants they would like to provide to the community and business for the purpose of developing ideas that will reduce injuries in the work place and return injured workers to work at an earlier time. When you see the results of the grants they are in the main given to organisations that come up with some form of research project or training program without any any real objective other than to create more talk fests and deliver absolutely nothing in the work place or to injured workers. With products, they either work or they don\’t, so you have instant feed back and instant results and maybe the answer to many employers dilemmas in the provision of a safe working environment focus the grants on areas of real concern and cost \”back injuries\” come to mind

    Sorry Kevin, I do get on my soap box, but as you can tell I have a real aversion to beating around the bush and more particularly, to those who feed off the system without really contributing any real answers to problems at the coal face. This is not a reference to any one person but to those many who know who they are. The Rosemary\’s of this world are the real contributors.

    1. Tony
      I appreciate all the effort and agree with much that you say.
      Your comments seem to consider the process in a linear fashion but in many ways the process is a circle of continuous improvement for business. Within this circle are occasional loops where workers are injured and returned to work. Each small circle is of crucial individual significance that safety professionals must understand and support but each of the individual circles occurs within the larger circle on which safety professionals must keep an eye.
      My perspective as a safety professional fluctuates between micro- and macro- priorities as new information appears, as new obligations are allocated, and as new clients are contracted, but I always try to see both extremes, otherwise, my advice is too narrow and ungrounded.

  4. http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/wraca1986400/s2.html
    Objects of Act

    (1) The objects of this Act are—

    (a) to establish a workers rehabilitation and compensation scheme—

    (i) that achieves a reasonable balance between the interests of employers and the interests of workers; and

    (ii) that provides for the effective rehabilitation of disabled workers and their early return to work; and

    (iii) that provides fair compensation for employment-related disabilities; and

    (iv) that reduces the overall social and economic cost to the community of employment-related disabilities; and

    (v) that ensures that employers\’ costs are contained within reasonable limits so that the impact of employment-related disabilities on South Australian businesses is minimised; and

    (b) to provide for the efficient and effective administration of the scheme; and

    (c) to establish incentives to encourage efficiency and discourage abuses; and

    (d) to ensure that the scheme is fully funded on a fair basis; and

    (e) to reduce the incidence of employment-related accidents and disabilities; and

    (f) to reduce litigation and adversarial contests to the greatest possible extent.

    The South Australian WorkCover Corporation ignores its own Objects of Act to benifit the employers and discredit the injured workers.
    My question still stands as to how can South Australian WorkCover Corporation even consider discussing any harmonization project when it ignores legislation that it is in place to work with and uphold for others to work with.

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