An early return to work after a workplace injury can be fairly simple if the workplace is within easy reach of the workers’ home. But what happens when an injured worker lives hundreds of kilometres away from the mine site, or even interstate?
A workers geographical location and distance from their workplace can create more hurdles in returning to work, but often some creativity in the return to work approach can assist an early return to work.
Overcoming location issues
The issue of return to work for Fly In, Fly Out (FIFO) or Drive In Drive Out (DIDO) workers shows the nature of the mining industry and its workers, and how this has changed in recent years. WorkCover Queensland Customer Services Manager, Mining, Jane Stevens, said it’s important for senior leadership to understand that some flexibility is required to keep workers at work while they recover.
“Considering interstate arrangements as part of the planning process is just one way to support injured workers and encourage a stay at work, or quick return to work outcome,” she said.
“Also, extra effort needs to be taken to keep in touch with workers who are off work injured, to make sure they don’t feel isolated due to their home location. For example, the colleagues they are close to, or their supervisor, may not live in the same region as them, so it makes picking up the phone all that more important. They need to be kept up to date with what’s happening so they feel in touch with the workplace,” she said.
Jane also advises that managing regional medical and allied health providers can be beneficial to assist in an early and sustainable return to work. Building a relationship with these providers means that they understand your business and can assist in prompt treatment and return to work as they are more likely to be cognizant of the demands of the workers role. It’s important to work with WorkCover to identify a list of doctors or allied health professionals who are near to the workers’ home location.
“Fostering relationships when not local can be challenging but should not be overlooked as they are an important link between rehabilitation and a return to work in the workplace”.
An example of a successful outcome
One of the key challenges faced by our remote mine sites is finding suitable host employers for injured workers in the local area. Traditionally this has led to longer return to work timeframes and higher claims costs as we have had to send injured workers’ home to recuperate and participate in host employment.
Jane said WorkCover together with a large employer, brain stormed to utilise the current local mine site suppliers for fully funded host programs. The suppliers quickly came on board, and having extra hands to assist them in this challenging climate is an added bonus.
The employer, who was previously struggling to accommodate reduced hours on their mine site, is now able to offer their workers a positive return to work program. Jane said this is a great example of employers working together with WorkCover, and with other local employers, to have positive experiences for their injured workers.
“By facilitating an earlier return to work, the impact on the employers’ premium was reduced. The injured workers also feel more supported and encouraged by this support, and we know that ‘doing’ promotes recovery, so in this case the solution to return to work with a host employer has had a lot of benefits for all involved,” Jane said.
Some other strategies to overcome distance
Thinking outside the box is the key to identifying return to work duties that can overcome distance. Here are some other strategies that may assist an early return to work when distance is an issue:
- What could an injured worker do remotely, either working from home on their PC, or is there another work location closer to their home?
- Could the injured worker do some training and development activities closer to home or even online?
- Could they be supported in their travel to and from work, for example, be a passenger with a buddy who lives near to their home location?
- Can their shifts, hours or number of days be modified to facilitate an early return to work?
- Can they get medical or physio treatment where they live, rather than near to the mine site, to reduce the need to travel?
Jane says it’s also important to remember to think capacity not incapacity so employees can stay at work as they rehabilitate from injury. “Return to work is about what they CAN do, not what they can’t.”
Find out more
For more information on injury management, return to work programs, or suitable duties options, visit workcoverqld.com.au or call WorkCover on 1300 362 128.
Return to work is about what they CAN do, not what they can’t.”
Jane Stevens, WorkCover Queensland Customer Service Manager