Injury illness and stigma
Safety capability means taking action to stop stigma around work-related injury and illness.
This can trigger negative stereotyping or labelling of a worker with a condition that carries social disapproval because it is perceived as undesirable, threatening or problematic. Consequences include discrimination, ostracism or different treatment.
Stigma or negativity can happen at all stages of the injury management process, from reporting an injury or illness, making a claim, while recovering in preparation to return to work and during the return-to-work process. This can result in:
- a worker being reluctant to report injuries and illness in a timely manner, or at all
- perceptions the workplace is unsupportive, reducing worker willingness to participate effectively in recovery and return to work
- workers experiencing fear and anxiety due to stigma, leading to poor mental health.
When a worker has a work-related injury or illness, support them to report the injury and make a claim. Provide physical and psychological support to encourage them to actively participate in recovery and return to work.
Workers who feel confident and positive about the level of support from their employer are more likely to recover quickly. They’re less likely to experience a psychological response and will generally achieve improved recovery and return to work outcomes.
Social support, positive expectations about their return to work, support from the workplace and involvement in the return-to-work process can improve recovery and return to work outcomes.
The Mentally healthy workplaces toolkit (PDF, 11.45 MB) includes information on how to develop supportive and capable managers and leaders, as well as indicators of potential distress. You can find information on how to remove stigma around workplace injuries and create a positive workplace culture.
When a worker experiences an injury or illness at work, their focus will most likely be on treatment, recovery, job security and stability. If the organisation’s focus is to maintain continuity of business operations and minimising associated costs (i.e., its workers’ compensation premium) rather than supporting their worker, negative backlash and stigma can lead to stereotyping and discriminatory behaviours. Excluding or controlling an injured worker can discourage them from accessing workers’ compensation. It can also lead them to ignore medical advice, return to work against medical advice or even leave the organisation.
Challenging the validity of injuries or illness can frustrate workers with legitimate injuries, leading to conflict and impeding the workers’ motivation to return to work. If a worker is blamed for a work injury or illness, this can damage the trust between workers and management and undermine meaningful consultation.
For these reasons, you should implement recovery and RTW processes in a supportive way. Focus on achieving a positive return to work. Taking a person-centred approach, where the worker is actively involved in their recovery and RTW planning, is more likely to succeed.
The Queensland Guidelines for standard for rehabilitation (PDF, 0.58 MB) are available to help employers understand the significant role they have in assisting an injured worker in their recovery and return to work.
A workers’ recovery from injury or illness will be different from person to person, even if the injury seems similar. It is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy. A work-related injury or illness can affect many areas of a person’s life. The effects can be physical, mental and emotional, and affect their income, family and mood.
To help your worker return to work safely there are several things you can do:
- take time to understand how the injury is affecting your worker, physically and mentally
- follow the seven principles set out in the Guidelines for standard for rehabilitation (PDF, 0.58 MB) to make sure your worker has the right level of support
- offer flexible working arrangements to help your worker return to work and find other suitable duties for them to do if needed
- team leaders, managers and supervisors can help workers after a work injury or illness by having an open and supportive approach to their recovery and return to work.
- Be aware of what stigma and a psychological response to an injury can look like.
- Support managers and supervisors manage negative behaviours and attitudes that can cause stigma around worker injuries and illnesses.
- Set the expectation that negative behaviours and attitudes directed towards an injured or ill worker will be challenged, and there is zero tolerance for peers to act in a discriminatory manner towards people with a work-related injury or illness.
- When planning a return to work, engage in open communication that includes supervisors and co-workers helping integrate an injured or unwell worker back to work.
View the Resources page for information and tips on how to improve your systems and processes to build your safety capability including prioritising organisational safety, importance of consultation, representation and participation, and understanding your legal obligations.
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