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Anita Johnston

Winner of 2014 Return to Work Awards

Category four – Winner – Rehabilitation and return to work coordinator achievement award

Anita Johnston is a human resources manager dedicated to rehabilitation and return to work.

To ensure the best return to work outcomes for staff, Anita engages an occupational therapist to provide information to supervisors and employees, to increase awareness of the potential risks in day-to-day tasks and how to prevent injuries from occurring.

Anita introduced a pre-employment medical process for potential candidates so that future employees are aware that the company is invested in employee safety.

Anita looks at different ways to keep employees interested in work health and safety. An example of this is was including key messages in the company-wide newsletter.

Anita encourages input from the treating doctor, staff and supervisors when devising suitable duties to make sure that everyone agrees on the duties and understands what is expected from the employee.

"Gaining a personal understanding of how quickly injury management can turn sour, and the lasting impact that can have on the career prospects and home life of an employee genuinely changed me as a person."

Anita Johnson
Anita Johnston

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RUN TIME: 5 min 44 sec

My names Anita Johnston and I'm the Human resources manager here at VAC Group of companies and also return to work coordinator and we do asset protection in the civil construction industry so we do non-destructive digging, and ground penetrating radar and sub surfacing utility engineering.

We have around 150 staff and the majority of our staff do non-destructive digging with our VAC trucks , vacuum digger and we also have utility locators that work in our earth spy division.

So for successful return to work I think the core issue is really that relationship with your employees, that they know that you are really there for them and they understand beforehand what sorts of processes will be taking place, that they know the suitable duties and that their supervisors going to be well involved and that staying at work is really health for them in that they can keep a relationship going into work, staying involved with your work mates and having that confidence that continues with the healthy aspects of been at work.

Some of the benefits that come for the business was successful return to work, obviously that the employees are still available to be utilised and to meet our clients' needs. There's the aspect financially too, there's a massive impact that it can have on premiums, but I think ultimately the real benefit to the business is that cultural fit, knowing that your staff know and you know that you can be proud of yourself as a business you do have a culture where your staff are looked after and that gets out there and people do approach us and do want to work for us.

Some of the successes that we have found in our return to work culture are really hiring people that have a wonderful approach to life and to work as well so attitude is one of our key drivers for what we look for in our staff and that creates a successful work place full stop.

Another aspect that we find really helpful is just really explaining to people right from the first day of what they can expect so if something goes wrong and they have an injury for example then we don't just stop work but we just adjust work so they know right from first day how we do return to work and what their expectations can be and how the process works and that they have a voice and that we are all about continual improvement and encouraging them to be engaged.

So I do feel really lucky in this work place and that we do have senior management the owners the directors they generally do want to have a safe workplace they do care about their staff and there is no issue as far as support to my role in return to work and I think that really is something that potentially other workplaces can learn from is that there are financial benefits and that culture does flow from top down throughout our business.

So our successful early intervention strategies really are being engaged with the employee right from when they may first have an injury. So we are part of the initial consultation with the Doctor so that we really build a team approach.

We have come a long way in our GP engagement and relationships so have gone out and identified specific practices that have occupational focus in their work and actually had them come out to our depots, demonstrate for them what VAC trucks do and what utility locators do and even engaged actual occupational physios so they could break down into different duties and weights so then we could specifically map out for GP's what different kinds of suitable duties are available.

I guess communication is one of the keys to the success that we have had and engaging senior management and supervisors of injured workers so that they know what is expected of them to get out there hands on with the Doctors and the employees and just keep the ball rolling as far as communication.

I keep our leadership team across what's happening as far as return to work goes by open communication and then when we have monthly management team meetings as well I present on where we are at and how things are tracking as well.

One of the fantastic things is that it doesn't cost a lot of money to be good at these processes, it just takes a great attitude.

For other return to work coordinators I'd really encourage them to take the processes to get senior leadership involved and in the buy in guess driving the financially benefits is obviously a key success.

Also the attitude of staff and the managers and the people that the supervisors that are going to be dong the return to work relational stuff with their employees that they have a positive approach to return to work, it's not about blame it's really about supporting staff and having that positive attitude towards return to work and that they are feeling supported and that their culture has a strongest driver and that achieve results.

We have taken the time to put things in place and it has really reaped rewards of people. They have had better health outcomes, better social outcomes with their families and it's a great achievement.