Return to work statistics indicate the longer someone is off work, the less likely they become ever to return.
If a worker is:
- off longer than 20 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 70%
- off longer than 45 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 50%
- off longer than 70 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 35%.
(The Australasian Faculty of Occupational & Environmental Medicine and The Royal Australasian College of Physicians position statement: Realising the health benefits of work)
It is important that all parties work together to achieve the quickest possible safe return to work.
In the case of worker Georgina Lacey and her employer Knights Laundry, regular contact was the key in achieving a return to work after a repetitive stress injury.
Georgina sustained right carpal tunnel syndrome and De Quervain's tenosynovitis in her role at Knights Laundry, a commercial laundry service in Toowoomba.
Georgina's injury happened over time due to the repetitive nature of her work, particularly working with a sheet ironing machine. This task involved Georgina standing for long periods of time and picking up sheets from a tub and pegging them into the sheet ironer.
After visiting a doctor on 22 February 2013, Georgina was referred for an x-ray and ultrasound. She then began hand therapy on 18 April, and was provided with a wrist splint prior to the carpal tunnel release surgery on 11 June. She also received steroid injections to settle the De Quervain's symptoms before undergoing surgery to repair the condition on 20 September. After three post-surgery hand therapy sessions in October, Georgina received the all clear from her doctor to continue to self-manage her injury.
Her employer kept in regular contact with Georgina throughout her claim, and with the assistance of her treating doctor, she was able to return to work on suitable duties quickly and easily after both surgeries.
Georgina was very proactive with her treatment and made sure she followed her hand therapist's advice.
“I was very happy to stay at work, even after surgery,” Georgina said. “This was all a very smooth process and that helped me to stay positive.”
WorkCover Queensland Customer Advisor Paul Regazzoli praised Knights Laundry's approach to maintaining a positive culture at work.
“Knights Laundry has a very good culture of supporting stay at work or early return to work in the case of an injury,” Paul said.
“The employer communicates well with the worker and treating doctor about when to start reintroducing an injured worker to the workplace and when is appropriate to start upgrading their duties.
“Since Georgina's injury, Knights Laundry has installed a new automated machine that breaks up the sheets from a large tight disc shape to individual sheets, which minimises the manual handling aspect of the process.
“They have also made changes to the picker and conveyor to further untangle the sheets so that the worker whose job it is to clip the sheets to the sheet ironer uses less force and reduces the risk of injury.
“This is a great case of all parties working well together to ensure the best possible outcomes for all involved.”
Georgina offers the following advice to any other worker who finds themselves in a similar situation: “Follow your occupational therapist's instructions and continue with your exercises. Stay positive.”
Find out more about how to communicate with injured workers.