Identifying duties

Under the workplace injury management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 you are required to provide employment that is both suitable and as far as reasonably practicable, the same as or equivalent to the employment the worker was in at the time of the injury.  If you cannot provide or identify suitable work, your insurer can help you with other options.

Setting your worker’s recover at work goal

Recover at work simply means helping a worker to stay in the workplace in some way following an injury, so they can use work to build and improve their capacity.

When identifying suitable work options for your worker, the goal of returning your worker to the same job as at the time of injury is preferable. Sometimes, due to the nature of the injury or other circumstances this is not possible. In these situations, the goal reflecting the most direct path back to work is recommended. When you set your goal, take into consideration the doctor’s estimation of your worker’s capacity for work. You can find this information in the NSW workers compensation certificate of capacity.

Identifying suitable work options

You don’t have to wait until you receive the NSW workers compensation certificate of capacity before you advise the worker, the doctor and others of the duties you have available.

In fact, the doctor will find it easier to match the capacity of the worker to the duties you have available if you provide this information before the consultation with the worker.

To identify suitable work options you may:

  • familiarise yourself with your worker’s pre-injury role
  • discuss work options and available duties with your worker
  • speak to your worker’s supervisor or immediate manager and ask for suggestions about how to organise duties to fit current work routines and schedules
  • review all the jobs your business has available and look at how they may align with your worker’s skill set
  • review the capacity of your worker as described on their certificate of capacity
  • provide work that has been ‘put on the back burner’ or any good ideas you haven’t had time to implement
  • determine who else needs to be involved.

Consider the tasks closest to your worker’s pre-injury duties as your first option. Duties can be offered in any of the following ways:

  • the same job with different hours
  • modified duties
  • a different job altogether
  • at the same or different workplace
  • a combination of these options.

When identifying suitable work options keep the following points in mind.

  • Physical demands

    Consider the physical demands of each task. For instance, changing a tyre might require standing, repetitive bending, twisting of the trunk and lifting and pulling heavy loads, while data entry may require prolonged sitting, prolonged and repetitive keying and sustained neck postures. Compare these demands with the doctor’s assessment of your worker’s capacity as described on their NSW workers compensation certificate of capacity. Changing your schedule of work tasks or temporarily incorporating more rest periods in jobs are ways of accommodating the physical demands of the task.

  • Psychological, cognitive and social demands

    Consider the impacts of the injury, any medication your worker may be taking and the compensation process on your worker’s ability to manage the psychological, cognitive and/or social demands of the duties you are offering.

  • Work environment

    Consider whether the environment your worker is returning to is appropriate. Confined spaces, uneven surfaces or working alone may affect your worker’s ability to undertake specific tasks.

  • Risk management

    Consider tasks you can eliminate or substitute to reduce the risk of further injury and protect the health and safety of the worker and their co-workers.

  • Training/educating

    If the duties identified fall outside what would be considered usual duties, consider whether your worker requires information, training or instruction to be able to complete the duties safely.

  • Psychosocial factors

    Consider how the worker’s personal circumstances influence their recovery at work, particularly if duties are offered at a different work site. Find out where they live and consider whether this creates difficulties getting to and from work. They may require travel assistance to help them recover at work.

  • Contributing to the workplace

    Do the duties add value to the workplace? Duties that do not add value may cause your worker to become unmotivated. They could also lead to discontent among co-workers who may perceive the worker is not pulling their weight.

Modifying the workplace

Consider aspects of the job your worker can perform within their current capacity and explore whether they may be able to perform some or all of their normal duties with assistance.

This could include the use of equipment or modifications to the work environment. For example providing a chair to a worker with an ankle injury, who would normally stand, will enable your worker to take a break from standing for long periods while still performing their usual job.

Funding for equipment and/or workplace modifications is provided where it is necessary to allow the worker to recover at work, or to accept an offer of suitable employment. The equipment or workplace modification may be specific to your worker’s functional requirements or necessary to start a new work role.

There is no minimum or maximum set payment however the worker must meet the eligibility criteria and the application must meet the principles described in the Retraining, equipment and workplace modification guidelines.

Assistance identifying suitable work options: workplace assessment

If you are having difficulties identifying duties in your workplace to accommodate your worker’s current capacity, a workplace assessment can be arranged by your insurer.

A workplace assessment involves an approved workplace rehabilitation provider assessing your worker as they perform a range of duties and determining their capacity to perform the duties safely.

The workplace assessment findings are discussed with you, the doctor and the worker with the view to developing an appropriate recover at work plan.

You should speak with your insurer about your need for a workplace assessment.

Overcoming a lack of available duties: work trial

If you are unable to identify suitable work options that match your worker’s current capacity, a work trial can help overcome the problem.

A work trial places a worker with a host employer for a short period of time when the pre-injury employer is unable to accommodate their current capacity.

The work trial is an opportunity for the worker to recover at work while performing duties suited to their current capacity. Duties can be upgraded over a period of time (no longer than 12 weeks) until the worker reaches the required capacity to return to your business.

An approved workplace rehabilitation provider will assist you to source a work trial host and submit a proposal.

Costs associated with the work trial are funded by SIRA and are not a claims cost.

There are financial incentives and support programs to help you help your worker to return or recover at work. Go to our website for more information.

Demonstrating a lack of available duties

If you believe you cannot meet your legal obligations to provide suitable employment, you will need to show why. At a minimum, you should be able to:

  • show who you consulted with (i.e. your worker, supervisor, other workplace manager, approved rehabilitation provider)
  • show that you carried out an adequate assessment of suitable or pre-injury work options
  • identify factors you consider are restricting your ability to provide suitable or pre-injury employment
  • identify assistance you have sought, eg from your insurer and/or an approved workplace rehabilitation provider.

A lack of available duties does not remove your obligation to actively participate in the recover at work planning process. It is important for the worker to stay active and, therefore, imperative that alternate work options or strategies are identified.

Ways to influence recovery at work

For most people with a workplace injury, time off work is not medically necessary. In many cases, with minor and temporary job modifications, your worker can recover at work. Consider the following factors that can influence a worker’s recovery at work.

Social

Work provides valuable benefits including social interaction, job satisfaction, skill development and learning opportunities. It plays an important part in maintaining a worker’s usual routine. Talking to your worker about these benefits may encourage them to resume normal activities and routines so they can recover sooner.

Economic

If a worker is unable to perform their usual work hours, they may be eligible to receive weekly compensation payments. These payments allow workers to focus on their recovery and are structured to encourage timely recovery at work.

Communication

Research shows good communication throughout the recover at work process is critical to achieving a successful outcome. If a breakdown in communication occurs or you foresee a risk to your worker recovering at work, think about requesting help as soon as possible either by discussing your concerns with your insurer or contacting the Customer Service Centre on 13 10 50.

Expectations

Sometimes the actions and behaviours of co-workers can have a negative impact on a worker’s recovery at work. It is important to manage expectations by keeping co-workers informed while maintaining confidentiality and putting appropriate measures in place to prevent and manage unhelpful and inappropriate behaviours.

Cultural differences

Workers from other cultures may have different values or belief systems that could impact on the way they respond to and cope with various situations. Awareness of this will help avoid misinterpretation of your behaviours or actions and any misunderstanding that may occur. If you foresee that cultural differences may impact on the recover at work process, discuss your concerns with your insurer or contact the Customer Service Centre on 13 10 50 for advice.

Beliefs about pain

Research shows that when recovering at work, an increase in pain does not always equate to additional damage to the injury or a worsening of the condition. Some increase in pain is to be expected. However your worker may believe their pain is harmful and may avoid activities they expect to be painful.

Conflict can occur when you identify opportunities to assist your worker to recover at work and your worker perceives your action as uncaring because they believe they are unwell. You may want to help your worker get back to a normal everyday life that includes work but your worker may believe they should rest at home until they are 100 percent fit.

When addressing these issues it is crucial you remain supportive. We recommend you advise your worker to discuss their concerns about the impact of their duties on their pain with their doctor. You can also seek assistance from an approved workplace rehabilitation provider.

Flare ups

You and your worker may have concerns about the possibility of re-injury or aggravation of the existing injury during the implementation of your recover at work plan. It is best to start your recover at work planning early, gradually and consistently increasing your worker’s activity over time. This approach has been shown to reduce the risk of re-injury or progression to a chronic pain condition.