The real cost of workplace injuries and how reading the early warning signs can help

Have you noticed an emotional change in someone you work with or perhaps yourself? Things like erratic behaviour, being withdrawn from colleagues, inability to concentrate or loss of confidence could all be early warning signs that someone is not coping at work.

Learning to identify the early warning signs and how to respond appropriately to these signs could help avoid a workplace injury.

In most cases, workplace injuries can be avoided if that person is supported through an early intervention program. Early intervention practices have proven to be more effective in fostering a happy and healthy workplace as it promotes a workplace that is supportive and committed to the health and wellbeing of workers. Healthy workers in general are more productive and have better overall morale.

Employers that ignore the early warning signs and do not have an early intervention program in place are more susceptible to a workplace injury occurring which could lead to additional costs associated with that injury. According to Safe Work Australia, the total economic cost of work-related injuries and illnesses for the 2008-09 financial year is estimated to be $60.6 billion dollars.

Robert Keft, Managing Director for Safety Australia said “the direct and indirect costs associated with an injury will ultimately cost an organisation more in the long term than what it would to set up a health & wellbeing program”. Workplace injuries can lead to absence from the workplace and in cases where chronic illness has developed it can be long term absences. “This will have an impact on your workers compensation premium and productivity. The key here is to be proactive with safety in the workplace and for employers and employees to work collaboratively around health & wellbeing issues”. For the worker it will avoid the financial, health and emotional impacts on them and their family.

WorkSafe Victoria have launched a major new campaign to help injured workers get back on their feet and back to work. Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips said the move follows the release of new statistics which shows the longer injured workers are off work, the more likely they are to require psychiatric and psychological help. “This campaign aims to highlight that returning to work as soon as it is safe to do so can be an important part in the injured worker’s recovery,” Mr Rich-Phillips said. “Being off work for an extended period of time can be extremely detrimental to a worker’s health”. “New data shows injured workers who remain off work one year after their injury are six times more likely to access mental health treatment than injured workers who went back to work after a month”.

An organisation should have robust injury management policies and guidelines in place supported by training. “Training will help employers and supervisors to understand the injury management process and identify the early warning signs” says Mr Keft. A return to work coordinator is an employee nominated by an employer or a contractor engaged for the role who can assist in this process. “A proactive return to work co-ordinator will work closely with workers and their supervisors to create an environment that encourages safe work practices and early reporting of injuries”.

If an injury has occurred, employers must ensure that the injured worker is supported and that they are given assistance to either remain at or return to safe and sustainable work. As the studies show, returning to work quickly and safely benefits both the employer and worker. A return to work coordinator will develop a return to work plan and identify suitable duties. They will be your key liaison person between injured worker, treating practitioners and insurer to ensure the best possible outcome.

Employers have a legal obligation to appoint a return to work coordinator for premiums or wages over a certain threshold so if you are not sure, it is best to check with the regulator in your state or Territory. In June 2012, the NSW government introduced changes to their Workers Compensation Scheme and WorkCover inspectors are now authorised to issue legally binding improvement notices to employers not meeting their injury management and return to work obligations. Failure to comply with the improvement notice can attract maximum penalties of up to $11,000.

The Safety Australia Group have been helping organisations with experienced return to work coordinators to review current outstanding claims, develop return to work plans, return to work policies and procedures, early intervention and health and wellbeing programs.

Counselling and staff support services are also available through our registered organisational psychologist with 21 years experience in the HR field.