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Case study: Building up to full return to work after injury

Workers in the construction industry have a high rate of risk with their jobs, and despite excellent training, safety policies, and experience, unfortunately accidents can happen which result in lengthy rehabilitation and difficulties returning to full capacity.

In this case however, despite a lengthy recovery, a full return to work as a carpenter was achieved due to motivation from the worker, a supportive employer, and excellent medical care.

The incident and surgery - November 2012

Mark Tunnicliff, a 38 year old left hand dominant carpenter, fell backwards. When he put his left hand out to break his fall, his hand landed on some stainless steel flashing with a very sharp edge, causing a deep laceration to his hand. He was operated on to repair six tendons and a nerve.

The treating specialist advised the worker was on track to full hours and duties in three months. The specialist also recommended a particular hand therapist who to provide the best possible outcome.

Return to work on alternative duties – February 2013

The injured worker's employer, Canstruct, was supportive of suitable duties and he returned to work in February on normal hours, with restricted duties. Despite making good progress, there were some concerns regarding his fingers failing to straighten as expected and his recovery slowed.

Return to work on normal duties – April 2013

In April, Mark (pictured) was given a clearance for normal carpentry duties. The specialist continued certification for hand therapy as there were ongoing concerns regarding contractures in three fingers.

In June, Mark advised his middle finger had started to bend downwards. The hand therapist tried two rounds of casting the finger to see if this would assist. Unfortunately, when the cast was removed the finger returned to a downwards position. Mark requested his medical certification remained unchanged – normal hours and duties – and the specialist was happy to allow him to continuing working within his tolerances.

Surgery – August 2013

Surgery to release the middle trigger finger was performed on 17 August. Mark had five days off for the surgery, then returning on suitable duties. Throughout, Canstruct continued to be supportive. A permanent impairment assessment was performed in early August.

Support to return to carpentry

Despite a serious injury to his dominant hand resulting in a 9% permanent impairment, Mark has been able to return to carpentry. The support from Canstruct and Mark's positive attitude to recovery and return to work has assisted in this great outcome.

As Canstruct was able to offer suitable duties, the costs of this claim were minimised. The worker minimised business impact by ensuring hand therapy appointments were early or late in the day so he could attend to or from work.

Open communication helped keep this claim on track. Mark called after each review and was open and honest. Access to the recommended hand therapist, reimbursement for out of pocket expenses and quick surgery approval helped the worker return to his pre-injury carpentry role, despite the significant injury to his dominant hand.

What's Mark up to now?

Mark has relocated to Christmas Island, 7500km north of Brisbane, to work on a major construction project. His role is to coordinate building material supply at the site, and also to supervise Health and Safety on site.

Canstruct General Manager Dan Murphy said he's doing a fantastic job. “It seems we've found the perfect fit for his skill set and personal attributes at Christmas Island.”

Mark has also recently been awarded the Canstruct Inaugural Quiet Achiever Award. The award recognises the good work of some of their quieter, and perhaps more modest achievers.

“On behalf of Canstruct, I'd like to say a big thank you to Mark for a great effort,” Dan said.

Congratulations Mark!

More information

For more information on injury management and return to work, please call us on 1300 362 128.