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Supporting workers with endometriosis

Safe Work Australia has published a new resource as part of the National Action Plan on Endometriosis. The information is primarily for employers to increase awareness of the prevalence and impact the disease has on workers and its potential impact on work safety.

Endometriosis is a disease where cells similar to those lining the uterus are found in other body parts. There is no cure for endometriosis and the cause is unknown. Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 females of reproductive age, with the average diagnosis taking seven to 12 years. It costs nearly $8 billion in healthcare, absenteeism and social and economic costs.

Work health and safety laws require you do what is reasonably practicable to provide a safe working environment and to ensure the health and safety of workers whilst at work, including workers with existing injuries or illness.

Not all endometriosis sufferers need increased time off but talking to workers and asking how they are helps assess if they need support. Severe cases can also amount to a physical disability and discriminating against or harassing a person in their employment because of a disability is against the law.

Simple steps you can take to support your workers:

  • Build a supportive workplace culture and start a conversation - while not all workers will want to discuss private health issues, people may be more open to participate in a conversation when it is conducted in a supportive manner.
  • Workers' privacy should be protected. There are privacy laws that protect personal information (including health information) from misuse, interference and unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.
  • Medical certificates - you may consider allowing workers an overarching medical certificate recognising their condition from their treating doctor.
  • Flexible work arrangements and job modifications - you may wish to discuss job modifications such as changing responsibilities, reducing the pace of work, managing workloads or modifying workstations.
  • Developing, implementing and promoting policies and procedures for chronic diseases can assist in raising awareness and understanding of the disease.

Workers must also take reasonable care of their own health and safety and not adversely affect others' health and safety. You should consider whether your symptoms, or the medications you are using to treat the symptoms, are affecting your ability to work safely or could impact on the safety of others.

Further information

More information is at www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/supporting-workers-endometriosis-workplace.