Safe Work Australia recently launched its National Return to Work Strategy 2020-2030, providing a framework for national action to improve return to work outcomes for Australian workers.
Australian states and territories have largely worked separately to address issues of return to work. The National Return to Work Strategy paves the way for national collaboration to improve outcomes for workers.
The strategy is a 10-year plan to minimise the impact of work-related injury and illness, and enable a timely, safe and durable return to work for workers. It is endorsed by work health and safety ministers across Australia, and union, employer and industry groups.
More than 500,000 Australians sustain a work-related injury or illness each year at an estimated cost of $61.8 billion. Australia's workers' compensation systems alone bear direct costs of $9 billion per annum from income support, treatment and rehabilitation and lump sum payments - the broader impact on workers, their families and society is far greater.
Return to work is about helping workers to get back to work, or to stay at work while they recover from a work-related injury or illness. While the rate of work-related injury and illness has improved markedly over the last 15 years, return to work rates have remained largely the same.
SWA says the strategy does not prescribe particular activities or changes to workers' compensation schemes or legislation. It is designed to be sufficiently broad so stakeholders who influence work and workplaces can determine how they can best contribute to improving return to work outcomes.
The Strategy will be reviewed after the first five years make sure it's responsive to current priorities and emerging trends. The outcomes of this review will guide national action for the last five years of the strategy.
The strategy can be viewed at safeworkaustralia.gov.au