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Effective return to work coordination – opinions and best practice

Presented by Anita Johnston, the Workers Compensation Regulator Return to Work Coordinator Achievement Award winner in 2014, this webinar provides practical strategies to reduce lost time injury durations and suitable duties durations, strengthen stakeholder relationships and positively impact medical, psychological, social and financial outcomes.

Anita is a national Human Resources Manager with 18 years' experience in the construction, retail, hospitality and financial services sectors. She has worked for the Vac Group since 2008, Australia's leading subsurface utility investigation, locating and mapping provider, and is studying a Masters of HRM.

Watch the recording of the webinar, or download the presentation (PDF, 853 KB) . This content is protected under copyright.

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  • Read transcript
    • Effective Return to Work Coordination: Opinions and Best Practice

      Anita Johnston

      Slide 1

      Slide 2

      Slide 3

      Facilitator:                               

      Hello and welcome, to today's webinar on Effective Return to Work Coordination, Opinions and Best Practice.

      As I've mentioned, my name is Rachel Hawkins and I will be your Facilitator for today.

      Next to me is Anita Johnston from the Vac Group, your expert Presenter for today. She's waving to you all, everybody.

      Okay - before I introduce Anita, I'll just turn over to the next slide.

      Slide 4

      We have some tips on making the most of your webinar experience. So firstly, Anita will present for around 40 minutes today. Anita has indicated that she's very happy for you to pose any questions throughout the presentation and we'll try and answer those as best we can at the time that you ask them. Otherwise, we'll save some of the leftover questions that we haven't had time to answer throughout towards the end.     

      To encourage you to interact throughout the presentation, we also have some poll questions. Again, a simple prompt will pop up on the right side of your screen and you will have a brief moment to respond to those.

      Slide 5

      Just before we get started we have some webinar help here, so to help you connect to audio. At the moment, we don't seem to have too many problems. So we've also got someone on hand, an IT expert I would call them who's available to assist you. So please use the Q&A function on the right hand side of your screen. If you're still experiencing problems after following these instructions, leave us your number and we'll have someone give you a call.

      Slide 6

      Now onto our presentation. Anita will be your expert Presenter for today. Anita is an amazing and dynamic person and as well as doing as her masters currently, she also wears two hats. One being the National HR Manager and secondly the Return to Work coordinator for the Vac Group who exist in Australia and New Zealand.

      Anita has received the highest accolade in Queensland for her efforts, the Return to Work Coordinator Achievement Award at the 2014 Workers' Compensation Regulator Return to Work Awards.

      I'll now invite Anita to share her award winning tips for successful and sustainable return to work including very practical strategies on how to keep people at the workplace when they're injured and also give her tips and opinions from Anita and the Vac Group's journey.

      So welcome, Anita.

      Slide 7

      Anita Johnston:

      Thank you so much Rachel. That's a very sweet introduction from you. And hi everybody - who is sitting logged in at your workplace during your lunch hour. Thanks for dialling in. Hope that this is going to be a really useful time and you'll come away with some great learnings. Look forward to answering some of your questions as we go during this morning. So fire away and put in any interactive questions you may have so we can answer them during this morning's session.

      So firstly, I just wanted to give a quick overview that we'll touch on three different areas to give you some great value this morning. In my experience there are some common characteristics of workplaces that enjoy effective return to work outcomes.

      So first of all, we'll start looking at those and then once we're aware of some of those characteristics let's look at how we can develop them so that you can some reap some really powerful results for all the parties involved. So we'll come away with some strategies and practical tools that you can apply in your workplace to reduce duration of claims, the premium packs and strengthen stakeholder buy in and positively improve the medical, psychological, social and financial outcomes.

      And yeah - so basically, we'll start out by doing our first – whoa, where did we go there – first poll question. Having a bit of a challenge with the clicker.

      Slide 8

      There we go. So initially, I just wanted to get a feel for what industry you're in. We've got a few options there so have a moment there to select which is closest to your particular workplace. And by way of introduction we in the Vac Group are in three of the four industries with the highest non-fatal injury rates and our business is predominantly in the construction, manufacturing and transport areas. So while you're selecting your industry we'll get some feedback on those. So let's see what we have there. Now it's…

      Slide 9

      … there we go. I'll give a few more minutes for that. So prevalence per industry. This is an interesting overview from WorkSafe of what the most dangerous industries are basically, and three of those like I mentioned are the construction, manufacturing and transport and storage which my particular workplace are involved in. And moving right along.

      Slide 10

      So one of the things I've noticed and this might be something that you can relate to, in work life sometimes you notice some common challenges and different ways that different businesses deal with them. And one thing I've realised as far as return to work approaches go that some characteristics seem to be more prevalent with regards to developing a workplace culture versus a more mature return to work company culture.

      Slide 11

      Slide 12

      So I've just jotted down in summary some of these sort of characteristics that you might be able to relate to in both and I just wanted to point out too that these are just not based on any actual empirical meta-analysis. This is just my first hand own observations from various external training programs, listening to the findings of speakers at return to work conferences, talking to colleagues at industry functions and doing some academic reading by researchers in the area. There's one awesome hub of information that I've locked onto. It's a resource driven by Dr Mary Wyatt and her colleagues and their website called www.returntoworkmatters.org and yeah. I thought that has definitely got some good tips in there.

      So thankfully in my particular instance, I work in a company which actually genuinely has wonderful directors and senior management colleagues who are honestly passionate about innovation and safety. That's core to the nature of the business. I've been tasked with driving some measurable benefits from maturing our return to work culture and I can't wait to share some of these with you.

      Slide 13

      So who are some of the key stakeholders? I thought it would be helpful to come up with a hypothetical situation in a company that I'm calling 'She'll Be Right' Pty Ltd.

      So in that situation, if we were one of those underdeveloped return to work systems what would happen if an injured worker was in that sort of a situation? Well, they would be injured, they wouldn’t know what to do necessarily and if you were in that workplace they may not have been trained in a simple, clear procedure. They may not know who to contact when they're initially injured and they're even likely to be hesitant to speak to their Supervisor or Manager for fear of retribution or embarrassment and they may even try to ignore the injury until it progresses.

      So in this situation, where they're unaware of return to work processes they may not know what suitable duties are available and they are ultimately going to start asking around their own social network about what to do. So imagining in that situation people are going to suggest to that injured worker "We'll go to your own doctor. They'll know what to do," but unfortunately in that situation they may not get the results that they were expecting.

      Slide 14

      So in that situation where there's an underdeveloped return to work system the employer may also be unaware of some of the impacts that can develop from this situation. They may believe that all workplace injuries are an unnecessary expense. They may personalise the situation if an injury occurs. So for example they may blame the individual injured worker because naturally it's a bit more challenging to do things thoroughly and actually take the time to look at the root causes and be open to continual improvement of workplace processes that are being used.

      So you may be sitting there recognising some characteristics in your workplace but the positive news is that it's actually an opportunity for you to present some suggestions to the decision makers in your company with a solid business case of the benefits that can be gained.

      Slide 15

      So here's an example I can give you - from a director that I spoke with in business and he was aware of a transport company in Australia that has had initially just – well just but a $60,000 premium for their workplace injury insurance and they had two workplace injuries that had occurred. And they were in the situation where it was underdeveloped.

      They left it to the two injured workers to liaise with their own GPs and the insurer and unfortunately they weren't very proactive, didn't provide suitable duties, weren't engaged, just let them do their own thing and over time that sadly developed to be a $240,000 per annum premium that that business had to start paying every year for their work health and safety insurance provider.

      So that's just a one off example that I can provide you with some of the practical challenges that can be involved.

      Facilitator:                               

      Anita it's Rachel the Facilitator here. We've had a question that's come through with regards to the Vac Group. Is monitoring statistics provided by WorkCover Queensland, is that something that your organisation does or that you do or are responsible for to help with improvement planning?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      Great question. Thank you whoever out there has asked that. Yes it's definitely the case. So being in civil construction providing when we do tenders and all that sort of thing, we need to really have our finger on the pulse of what our history is as far as injuries go so that we can provide that when we ever go out to tender. So yes - we've got a very tight reporting structure that we have internally and thankfully we've got a really positive reporting culture.         

      So what that means is that basically, we have developed our workers and supervisors and managers that are so wonderful with anything whether it's an issue regarding equipment right through to a personal physical issue that they've come across. And reporting goes right back to not just once something's happened, but also hazard identification so even before it happens. Then you can notice that "Okay we've noticed there's potential for slips, trips and falls are really common in our workplace when you're out on site and civil construction sites. So therefore, we can raise awareness of those," for example. I hope that helps answer that question. Thank you.

      Okay. So let's continue with our return to work system at 'She'll Be Right'. So we discussed there that there can be a common situation where the GP isn't familiar with the workplace. They're actually used to everyday just writing medical certificates and saying “No, this person can't do anything. They're going to be at home," and they may not be at all familiar with your workplace generally and may take a worker advocate position.       

       So that's obviously going to have a different impact ultimately where they can just assign the worker to stay at home because they don't know what suitable duties they could have - and that can have negative psychological impacts on that poor worker as well, unfortunately.

      Slide 16

      Facilitator:                               

      Sorry to interrupt again. I've got another question. Just on the topic of workers staying at home for a set period of time, how does the Vac Group or how do you as the Return To Work Coordinator engage with those workers who stay at home?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      Thanks Rachel. Great question. So that was a situation that I can definitely relate to. My first start in the return to work sphere back about seven or eight years ago and I inherited a claim that had sadly deteriorated very rapidly. So the worker was at home and disengaged from the process. Basically, it's all about getting involved, having positive expectations of your interactions and now that was really the catalyst for myself wanting to figure out how I make sure this never happens again. So that's how that's all developed basically.     

      We made sure that we first of all, had the buy in from our directors and the senior stakeholders which in my workplace is thankfully no problem whatsoever because that's a quarter who they are. They love innovation, they love safety. That's what we do as a business. And then turning around and taking it to the workplace. So getting hands on with the staff and asking them what sorts of - like breaking it down with them and we engaged a Occupational Physician and broke down the duties that they do in the most high risk roles and broke them down into the work heights and all the different sort of sections of each job, took photos as we went and through that developed actual injured worker fast response packs.         

      These duties are also basically, so we can break down for the GPs what are suitable duties and which ones they can continue to do in various situations. And they've got a menu basically, that they can select from as well. So we worked with the staff and asked them "What sorts of duties would you suggest you can do if you are unable to do your main core role?" So really being engaged, getting back to that great question, right from the word "go" so that the staff know you, you're not a stranger, that the multiplying your return to work skills right across the business so you're not just the one hub of all this knowledge which had eventuated in my situation where I was actually interstate when there was an injury and I was physically unable to take an injured worker to our medical treatment provider. Then we realised that because we had grown so successfully across the states that it was going to be best to multiply these skill sets into our supervisors.

      So our supervisors are really happy and more than capable of being coached and supported and then took them along to the different treatment providers and they got to know them. They got to work through with these packs that we'd collaboratively developed with the doctors "What are some different suitable duties options that there are always available?" Show them the menu that they can select options from and that way you are multiplying your skill sets and then you can mature to becoming more of a support person and a mentor and really supporting your supervisors and managers across the business. Then also you're there as a phone call to any injured workers at any point in time. So I hope that sort of answers that question. It's all about getting involved and right from word "go."

      Well, that's our second question. You've had a good chance to have a look at that and this is just in regards to what is the chance of getting back to work in your view if an injured person is off sick for 20 days, 45 days or 70 days?

      So have a think what you believe would be the probability there and we'll let that time tick away there and you can consider that. And we'll move on.

      Slide 17

      There we go. I've actually given you the answer already. Bingo. I'll move on to then and we can come back to that.

      Slide 18

      And then so I wanted to get onto some successful strategies and for return to work coordination. So what are some different things that hopefully will be beneficial to yourself?

      Slide 19

      Okay. So preparing for success. So some useful strategies that as I've already alluded to in the answer to that question is really getting hands on to collaborate so you can have the most impact. So that means right from day one providing new staff members with the information about how the return to work is within your company. So showing them how that works without overwhelming them and then communicating that at regular intervals in your company as well, whether that be in toolbox talks or staff meetings, that sort of thing, newsletters so people will have a refresher every once in a while of what to do. And then multiplying your expertise like I just mentioned as well across your supervisors so that they get familiar with how to focus on the ability that an injured worker has got and rather than what they can't do. That's just so powerful discussing when you're in the doctor's meeting with them what things do they think they can do so that they get used to focusing on ability rather than disability.

      Facilitator:                               

      So this isn't so much a question. I guess it's a comment. I see the words "role playing" on that slide there. So at the bottom "Multiply your return to work expertise across Supervisors" and you touched lightly on how you did that before but you didn't mention role playing. How did your supervisors take that and how did you actually do the role play?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      Thanks Rachel. That's an awesome question. So as you can imagine I'm in a predominantly blue collar workforce with some fantastic, awesome, great burly men across the country. So playing role plays isn't really their gig.

      So what we did is basically, I'd organised for the supervisors individually to have an appointment with the various treatment providers that we've selected - the GPs - and to give their GPs an opportunity to meet them and discuss the return to work options, suitable duties menu, that sort of thing. So when I was in the ute with the various supervisors I would discuss with them, you know “Imagine I'm the injured worker and you were taking me to this doctor. What sorts of things do you think would be good to talk about in this ute ride so you can arrive prepared?" and that was sort of like an enactment that was practical and real without being cheesy. So thanks.

      Facilitator:                               

      No - that's good. I think the word "enactment" is good rather than that role playing. It tends to - you always see it when people get a bit scared. So thank you.

      Anita Hawkins:                      

      No problem. Thanks Rachel and the good news, we've got the results in from the questions that we discussed and most of you identified correctly that the chance of returning to work after an injury was option A. So it was where you have about a 70% chance of returning to work if you're off for 20 days but only 50% if you are away for 45 days and a very low 35% of ever returning to any work after 70 days. So they're quite sobering statistics and these are real people with real families and real long term impacts. So it's a real thing that is just so encouraging that we can impact people in a positive manner.

      So let's continue on our little journey.

      Slide 20

      And I just wanted to discuss the value of getting to know your staff and their roles.

      Slide 21

      Slide 22         

      So with that -  one of our great little characteristics of our workplace is that we have what we call "ride days" and that's where our senior leadership team actually get out once a quarter and it's a KPI for all of us. And we go into different parts of our business and where we believe that we'll be able to get some value by either learning by spending a day, you know, riding along so to speak with other people in another part of the business.

      And what I've really loved doing is developing existing relationships further by for example, donning all the PPE gear and the health – like the high vis shirts and steel cap boots and the full shebang and getting out on site with the guys and spending a day in our Vac trucks and I've got a picture there so you can see what they look like, these trucks. Or I've spent days in our workshop as well underneath our Vac trucks to do a greasing up and doing wheel greasing and all different kinds of things and it's just a great way to get to know some of the staff and see what they do, understand what different roles and duties they could do if they were injured in different ways and just really break down any siloing that can develop in the workplace as it grows as a successful business.

      So that means that if you have developed good Return to Work Coordinator relationships with staff in different areas they know that you genuinely care about them and that these processes are developed collaboratively with them, and that the processes are through your familiarity with their workplace and that you understand the real world medical impact that the positive expectations will have on suitable duties durations and shorter and fewer lost time injuries as well.

      Slide 23

      So I hope that example was helpful for you. Another idea is just really building those Workplace Treatment Provider relationships like we've alluded to.

      Slide 24

      So here we've discussed the value of not leaving it for the injured worker to struggle through themselves.

      I had an interesting experience actually. So while we were in the process of developing our system initially, we were just using nearby medical centres that were close to our various depots. Now when I got to talking to some of these busy GPs they actually told me straight out that they didn't like doing WorkCover cases. They said that they felt suitable duties plans were wasting their short consultation time.

      So they had pressures just to get on with dealing with the public and churning through their waiting patient lists. And they were very unaware of the negative health impacts of sending injured workers home to languish at home disengaged from the workplace on avoidable lost time injuries.

      So becoming aware of that had a big impact because I understand how this can as you know from the statistics that we just looked at. So basically, we transitioned to an occupational medical centre and by having the buy-in of the specialists in that way, we've had no lost time injuries since then and shorter durations on suitable duties.       

      So what we did was our directors invested in engaging an Occupational Physician and as I discussed before, we had them assess the core tasks, work heights and weights. We started with the high risk roles and we've used this in pre employment medicals and to build effective return to work plans. So that's had a really huge impact and I'd strongly encourage you to give it a shot.

      Facilitator:                               

      We've just had a question with regards to I guess the use of an Occupational Physician to help with assessing those core tasks. Did you put them together to come up with say a job bank or a job task dictionary or job task analysis and is that what you use to then send out with your supervisors to help get sign off on suitable duties?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      Great question. Yes. So basically, we did. We got the Occupational Physician to come out and assess. They were there and we got another great opportunity for the staff to get involved themselves because they were the drivers they were demonstrating to the Occupational Physician with "This is how I do my job." They took photos. They weighed things. They took decibel measurements as they went along and we broke the job down with the key staff members into its component parts and then from that we can, as you say they had suitable duties plans developed so that we can have them signed off by the supervisors.

      Facilitator:                               

      Yep okay. We've got another question here. So we've got one frustrated participant who indicated that they're increasingly finding GPs automatically issuing two weeks off work with medication and treatment for minor injures and then extending that into two and three week cycles particularly the rural GPs and hospitals to, you know, that's particularly an area that they find a bit difficult. Do you have any tips for this particular participant on how he can convince them to allow a return to work? Or what would you do in that circumstance?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      I can so relate. How frustrating. So I guess putting myself in his shoes if it was possible I would suggest actually getting out and meeting with the GPs in question and even getting them to come to the workplace like we did with this Occupational Physician. And that way they can see what it is that the worker is doing and then understand that that's a positive thing. There's all those examples of the benefits of being engaged in the workplace and that GP may just like we found, may honestly not be aware of the negative psychological impact and harm that is created by being disengaged from your workplace, from not being, you know, in that day to day routine of being at work, not having your workmates around you. So just really engaging with those GPs I would imagine in my experience at least has a really positive impact although it can be challenging if it is in a remote area.   

      The other thing is that WorkCover has got wonderful resources there for helping sort of breaking down that resistance as well and so I'd really encourage you to get in touch with your support person within WorkCover because they are just wonderful. I've got a great relationship with WorkCover Queensland. They do just such wonderful work and then would be such a challenging role to deal with, but their heart is genuinely just so in the right place and they're very much experts in this field. So yes. So really take the bull by the horns and go there if I was you. I hope that helps. I can so relate to that.

      Slide 25

      So moving on I guess really just fostering those return to WorkCover – return to work supervisory skills within your business is an area that I would love to discuss a little further as well.

      Slide 26

      So we've already touched on that. So working with your staff in figuring out the menu of suitable duties options that they can use for different issues and then working with your supervisors, taking them out to meeting your treating doctors, showing the examples of the menu of different suitable duties options you have that they can select from given any different injuries that we're discussing and coaching with your supervisors. So reviewing return to work procedures occasionally. Even such simple things as breaking it down to a simple return to work flowchart. So I've put all of these different things together in a laminated pack which we have in the utes of all of our supervisors and we also have these rapid response packs on top of our first aid kits in all the different depots and workplaces we have.       

      So if someone's bleeding or there's some major, you know, you've got to respond there's nothing more important than getting out there and taking that injured worker to a well schooled, educated GP who understands your practice and your workplace. I've even noticed that some of our supervisors have made copies and got laminates on their office walls of the flowchart of return to work. So they obviously genuinely do know that this is useful for them to have at a moment's notice if they've taken that time.

      Facilitator:                               

      Sorry we've got some – yeah – interesting questions coming through. We've had another one. So from a different industry and they've got I guess employees that work across the state very similar to what you have across Australia and New Zealand. They don't necessarily have, from what I can understand from the questioner’s supervisor, in every location because they're so widespread and they struggle to get that workers' comp medical certificate in a timely manner. So do you have any suggestions on – does it come back to again, what you said when you indicate that it doesn't matter no matter what anyone's doing, you really need to get someone there or someone needs to contact that GP as soon as they find out that someone's injured? What does it come down to for your company?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      It's a really great, practical question. Thank you to whoever you are out there in webinar land. I can relate to that again. We do do some remote work. What I would suggest is to really encourage – like educate your staff so that they know to contact the right person. I'm thinking maybe it would be you or whomever the appropriate person is within the company the minute they've injured themselves and get contact with who it is. Find out immediately who the doctor is that they're going to see. Or, if it is after the case if that falls over for some reason, get in touch with that doctor because it is part of their obligation to consult with you as the worker's workplace and provide that information, that WorkCover medical certificate in whichever state it is.     

      So yeah - I would basically, really encourage you to disseminate this even further if you don't have supervisors, even a lower, even further into the organisation at the actual employee level and encourage them right to from day one to understand that it's going to help them by communicating with you. The minute something occurs and they are injured, before they even go to the doctor to get in touch with you and that way you guys can collaborate together with the medical treatment provider and you can talk through.

      I've done it over the phone where I've been in a similar situation myself and the doctor has actually called me when they've got the injured worker with them. So you can do a teleconference with them and you can explain some of the suitable duties to the doctor at that point in time. And that way the employee will find a bit of relief as well because they're not trying to explain all this stuff and it's paperwork and it's all a bit overwhelming and stuff. So it just really puts them in a space where they're feeling supported from you.

      Facilitator:                               

      Great and we do have another question. So how do you address injured workers who might appear to be psychologically not interested in return to work or happy to stay at home, or feel that they could not return to work even though there is sufficient medical grounds or you might have enough experience to realise that maybe with that diagnosis they could do something? How do you find you would deal with that situation?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      Wow. Yeah that's really good. Thank you for that question. Again, I can really relate to that. I think there were aspects of that in the very first claim that I inherited that really set the alarm bells off to me about needing to address all this stuff right up front so that it never occurred again.          

      Basically, there is a legal obligation for both, for the injured worker to participate in return to work. So it's not just an optional extra. This is actually like their legal obligation. Again, WorkCover have got fantastic resources in assisting with that process especially if the treating medical providers or if you've been excluded from directly engaging with the medical treatment providers. And it's also again, really a workplace cultural thing. So over time where we've come to this space where our workers know that it's just not an option in our business for people to go to a doctor and go home and just sit there and receive damage over time from being dissociated from their workplace.

      So really being on the front foot, engaging with them over the phone and meeting in a neutral place, really encouraging them so that they – just developing that trust is so important and also make sure you're looking after yourself as well as the Return to Work Coordinator, getting feedback in with your business so the senior stakeholders within your business – yeah there are a lot of things in those multiple questions but ultimately it comes down to really that foundation of trust and the employee understanding that it's for their own benefit and whether you need to lever some of those different factors like the fact that it is a legal obligation and the big picture, the benefits that will be available to them by staying engaged.       

      There's also wonderful stuff in WorkCover like host employers which we have been host employers as well. That may be another thing that can help address that situation, but really get on the front foot and I would so encourage you too to try and stay positive. One thing I've found is a real good tool is to go on expecting good outcomes, be firm and confident but positive and that can have a really fantastic impact on the outcome of meetings when you go to address some of these challenging, complex issues.

      Slide 27

      Okay let's move on then to – these are the Fast Response Packs. Now we had a really strong interest in these in the initial webinar when I discussed our Fast Response Packs. So there's a bit of an overview of what I've already discussed. The laminated return to work flowchart which breaks down the whole process. So if one's clear on who's doing what. We've done helpful things like have the nearest medical centre and directions to the hospital. So if people are in a fluster they can clearly see where they're going and meet there.

      Again, nothing is more important out of any of your duties than getting there to support an injured worker. That’s just number one really. Emergency contact details for your staff as well as the Supervisor and whomever else. Again, it's that foundation of confidence, trust and knowing that you're there to support them and this is a genuine situation, that you're there to look out for them 24/7. Our staff know that of us.    

      Some blank forms for WorkCover. You'd be surprised that GPs who are just in general practice and aren't focused on occupational medicine can be providing you with just their general day sick off work forms and not the WorkCover ones if you're not onto it. Consent forms are really, really powerful as well. So right from word "go," explaining with the employee like I described, if you're on the ute ride taking them to your doctor or meeting them there just explaining to them that having their written consent to collaborate with their medical treatment provider and with WorkCover is really going to give them the best outcomes. And if people know you, they've seen you at work in their workplace, they've got that foundation of trust, they're more than happy to provide you with that consent. It's never been an issue.

      Suitable duties blanks. That's the menu that I was discussing and WorkCover have got some wonderful templates and educational tools available to our community for this. And the Suitable Duties options and photos like I was discussing in the plans there.

      Facilitator:                               

      Hi. We've just got another question. So if someone did have a more serious injury or a significant injury and they weren't able to I guess adhere to that stay at work type way of life that the Vac Group has, what kind of approaches would you have to include them in the workplace or just to show them that you do care because it sounds like that's the general culture? But sometimes people do have those serious injuries. What kind of things would your organisation do?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      Great question Rachel. Thank you from that person out there in webinar land. Yes I've definitely been in that situation as well where I've had an employee who's needed to have reconstructive surgery on their shoulder. So obviously while you've got a fresh, significant surgery like that you can't physically get back onto doing civil construction work the next day. So in those situations again, we make it available so that before the operation has occurred that the surgeon and main treatment provider are aware of the different at home suitable duties that are going to be available for that worker to do and also keeping in touch with them by phone. Just really feeling the love. That's what people need. So what I've done in these situations is we have Safe Work Method Statements. There might be workplace training documents. They could do all kinds of different things even for just a few minutes a day from home where that's going to keep that connection in their mind of that "I'm doing something," and again, this is still suitable duties, it's just from a different location.        

      And getting the a okay with the surgeon and the treating doctors beforehand that they can, you know, even lie in bed and read through some workplace material for a few minutes just to keep that connection to work and as they continue to recover and that will be able to be extended.

      With their consent, you can go and meet with them at people's homes - I've done that before - and just offer support to their family as well and just keep that connection alive. Phone calls like I mentioned, sending out the company newsletter, things like that just so that they're feeling engaged and we're stopping that dissociation in isolation that can start to creep in the minute they are away from the workplace. So really working through that and keeping in touch. It's prevention and it's just so valuable.

      Great. I hope that answered your question and you've had a good look at our Supervisor Fast Response Packs.

      Slide 28

      So just the final thoughts for you then about the overall return to work strategy. I just really encourage you to keep continuing to improve your return to work processes so they develop from the developing on the left hand side of that imaginary continuum through to the more maturing side, communicate them to your team and keep changing them and make them easily accessible to your staff.     

      Make sure you're getting to know your staff and employees. What different duties they do and how they can be changed to being suitable duties and that they'll be confident to stay engaged with you because there's a trust that's been built with yourself or indeed their supervisors so that there's not those lost time injury days where they're isolated from the workplace. And getting to know those treatment providers so they can make informed medical decisions with the information that you're providing them with.

      Get them out to meet your workplace - see the different duties and different types of jobs that you do in your workplace so that they can again, have that confidence in assigning people to do different types of work rather than - just like that question that came through about leaving people to be at home for two weeks at a time and extending that out.

      Keeping upbeat.  Again, as I mentioned before, I think it's just so, so good to keep the ball in your court and offer solutions and expect good medical outcomes keeping in mind that this is a stressful time when someone is injured and medical treatment providers are busy people. So really focusing on ability rather than disability and having good record keeping.

      Again, we've got a very busy healthcare system so if you keep good records and keep control of the situation as far as keeping them accurate because believe me you will need to potentially refer to them in future years' time as well.

      And again, that written consent right from the minute the issue arises is a key to that. And again, like I mentioned just nurturing and making sure that saying "Who's caring for the caregivers?" So who is caring for the return to work caregiver, making sure that you're supported and some carers there are using networking, getting involved in like return to work awards, conferences, DJAG training opportunities and that sort of thing.

      So thank you for listening to me droning on. I hope you've had a helpful session and participating and I look forward to answering some more questions that you may have.

      Slide 29

      Facilitator:

      Okay. So thank you very much Anita. It's always very informative and I guess a very useful and practical insight into the success that you have experienced throughout your career as well as at the Vac Group.       

      Just before we move onto a few more questions because we are nearing the closure time for our webinar, Anita has made reference to some very good resources throughout the presentation and there is a list of these over the next two slides.

      Slide 30

      We will ensure that a copy of the resources or these slides is provided and available to you once we've actually transcribed that. It will also be posted on our website as well. So that's the WorkSafe website.

      There is one question Anita that someone has asked with regards to using your own doctors. I guess it can be seen as that. Have you ever had anyone pushed back with regards to that?

      Slide 31

      Or do you as a general rule always outline that it's the worker's right to access their own doctor if they need to?

      Anita Johnston:                     

      Great question. Yes, we have had that. So basically, our staff understand that we've taken the time to educate these doctors about their workplaces. They themselves, have seen them in the workplace and having their colleagues demonstrate to the doctors the different duties that they do and they understand our history as well - where we used to have just generic GPs and the negative impacts that there were for our staff in that they were just getting laid up at home like that person explained about being driven off to stay at home for two weeks at a time. So yes.  That is definitely something that our staff are familiar with.

      I have had the situation where an employee preferred to use their own GP because he felt he was going to get better care and that was totally cool. Again, they understand that our main focus is their fast return to work. However, we end up doing that we don't care. So what we did is basically, I spent some time with that GP and gave again, just as usual, met up with them, with the employee, showed them the different menu of suitable duties that they could use, showed them the images of how they could break down the roles to be appropriate for that given situation. 

      So we started from scratch with that particular GP but whatever needs to be done so that the employee is confident that they are getting the best care. And again, that was a good point in that at the end of each medical treatment visit with an injured worker always make sure when we're debriefing afterwards on the ride back to the workplace or to home, how did they find that was, how did they find the information they were receiving from that doctor, that sort of thing so that we can continue to improve the service that we are receiving as the business and the employee is receiving so they can get the best care and best result for them.

      I hope that answers that?

      Facilitator:

      Yes. Excellent. So we've actually come to the end of our webinar.

      Slide 32

      I once again, wanted to extend a very big thank you to Anita. So this is the second time that she's been with us. So thank you. Back by popular demand again. And you obviously were a very deserving winner and that's been evident by some of the strategies that you've shared with us today. So thank you to you and the Vac Group.

      With regards to support for Return to Work Coordinators who are working within Queensland, the Workers' Compensation Regulator has created a Coordinator Facebook Community and so if you want to receive regular communication and some of the current and most recent information that we have to offer you, make sure you join us using the link on the bottom of your screen.

      Next week we will also be in Townsville.

      Slide 33

      So the Workers' Compensation Regulator is committed to ensuring that we provide support for Return to Work Coordinators across the whole of the state and that includes at our conferences. We will be at a stand next Friday. So make sure that you come and see us if you will be at that conference in Townsville. 

      We've got two free tickets to give away for our October conference in Brisbane and that will also be where we will award the award winners for the 2015 and I think some of those nominations will be out soon. So make sure you link in on Facebook and read more about those awards.

      Slide 34

      We've got one more final message for you. So, there are some collaborative forums that will be available and these are leadership forums. So WorkCover Queensland and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland are working to deliver some collaborative leadership forums and if you're interested in learning on how to improve injury management and workers' compensation performance through workplace health and wellbeing make sure that you register to attend one of those.

      The full program is available on the WorkSafe website and if you do attend those, they’re breakfast forums. There will be an Occupational Physician who will be available there - and no doubt, they'll be reinforcing some of the key messages that you've heard today.

      So once again, thank you all for supporting our webinar initiative. We are most grateful and have a great afternoon. We'll hopefully be in contact next month for our next webinar.         

      Thank you.

      [End of Transcript]

Last updated
14 October 2016

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