Work Options News


Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry

Mental Health Audit: how mentally healthy is your workplace?

Mental health in the workplace is fast becoming an important issue for managers and supervisors, and can be a challenging  topic to manage. In Australia, it is estimated that one in five employees will be suffering from some form of mental health issue, which is often associated with high personal and economic costs; in fact, it is one of the main reasons for reduced work performance, absenteeism and presenteeism. Poor mental health in the workplace is too significant to ignore.

Consider these questions to determine how mentally healthy your workplace really is:

Does you workplace:

    1. Have a detailed, promoted and enforced Mental Health Policy in place?
    2. Have senior managers who are actively involved in mental health promotion, encouraging a good level of workplace communication around psychological health and safety promotion?
    3. Include mental health resources and educational materials in the staff recruitment and induction process?
    4. Provide mental health education and first aid training to employees to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce stigma and better overall mental health?
    5. Support and promote mental health related events such as R U OK? Day, Mental Health Awareness Month?
    6. Encourage flexibility such as: flexible start/finish times, flexible days, rostered days off, work-from-home, or job sharing)?
    7. Encourage employee participation in decision making and problem solving?
    8. Have and enforce anti-bullying policies which are specific, and detail guidelines for managers on their role in countering bullying?
    9. Effectively and inclusively explain workplace changes and/or restructures to employees, encouraging feedback and comments, in order to mitigate negative effects on wellbeing?
    10. Offer coaching and mentoring sessions and development opportunities, to employees looking to grow themselves and their career?
    11. Encourage physical activity throughout the working day as well as outside of hours?
    12. Promote reward structures?
    13. Conduct regular wellbeing checks to identify symptoms of poor mental health and facilitate early treatment?
    14. Provide and promote Employee Assistance Programs and/or workplace counselling services?
    15. Offer resilience programs such as stress training or cognitive behavioural interventions to help employees better manage work-related stress and challenges?
    16. Provide supervisors and managers with mental health training, tools and resources to assist in employee recovery and mental health management?
    17. Provide alternate duties or partial sick leave to support employees struggling with mental illness?
    18. Provide comprehensive Return to Work programs based on cognitive behavioural therapy, customised according to individual needs?
    19. Regularly conduct employee satisfaction surveys and make changes based on feedback and recommendations?
    20. Have a high rate of employees taking excessive sick days?
    21. Have a history of psychological injury claims?
    22. Have a history of high staff turnover?

How did your workplace do? If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions (with the exception of questions 20, 21, 22), congratulations it is highly likely that you’re providing employees with a mentally healthy work environment. If you found yourself frequently responding with ‘no’, or if you answered ‘yes’ to questions 20, 21 and 22, then take some of these points on board to implement healthy changes, a positive attitude and approach towards a mentally healthy workplace. Or to have a mental health professional conduct a thorough workplace assessment, and provide you with the best advice and proven mental health strategies and training seminars, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
Steps to preventing psychological injuries in the workplace
An Employee Assistance Program story
A simple guide to talking to employees about mental health


Guide to employer obligations around poor air quality

The devastating bushfires around Australia are not only significantly impacting communities across the country, but should be an important reminder to employers about maintaining safe working environments with regards to air quality.

For weeks on end, major Australian cities have recorded unhealthy to hazardous air quality ratings, meaning that all reasonable precautions should be taken to protect employees against the dangers, in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011.

If staff are working outdoors, employers should take the following steps to ensure WHS obligations are met, and workers remain as safe as possible:

  • Reschedule work where possible until air quality improves for safer working outdoors
  • People who are sensitive to smoke or suffer from a heart or lung condition should cease work and stay indoors until air quality has improved
  • Conduct appropriate risk assessments prior to commencement of work
  • Provide all appropriate personal protective equipment including P2 face masks and ensure employees are briefed on how to use equipment correctly
  • Ensure any employees working alone or remotely have an effective means of communication and regularly check in with them
  • Encourage employees to report any concerns about individual needs and seek medical advice where required
  • Employers should regularly check the bushfire and air quality status near work areas, and advise workers of regular updates
  • Encourage employees to take regular breaks, inside where possible, stay hydrated and work shorter hours if workload permits
  • Always follow instructions and advice from emergency services and authority officials

Understandably it may be unrealistic to cease work completely when the bushfire crisis is ongoing, however health and safety of employees and others needs to be a priority for all employers. At the end of the day, the best way to reduce exposure to air pollution is to stay indoors where possible, in filtered air conditioning, with doors and windows shut.

For further information and advice:


6 things employers should know about the workers comp system

No matter the industry, business size or insurance type, all employers have an obligation to support any person who is injured at work, and have a duty of care to assist in an active recovery process. Here are 6 things employers should know when navigating the Workers Compensation system:

  1. Employers are obligated under Australian law to have workers compensation insurance
  2. Employers have 48 hours to report injury and accidents otherwise iCare may charge an excess
  3. Injured workers must get an official Workers Compensation Certificate of Capacity from their GP or specialist, a standard Medical Certificate will not be accepted
  4. Businesses need a dedicated Return to Work Coordinator if they employ more than 20 people, their basic tariff premium exceeds $50,000 annually or who are self-insured or insured by a specialised insurer
  5. Employers are required to provide suitable work duties (as far as reasonably practicable) when a worker is able to return to work
  6. Section 248 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 states: ‘an employer must not dismiss a worker because of a work-related injury within six months from when the worker first became unfit as a result of the injury’

For a detailed list of employer obligations under New South Wales workers compensation legislation, view more information at SIRA.

When performance reviews result in bullying and harassment claims, and how to avoid them

Reasonable performance management of staff, conducted in a rational and constructive manner is not workplace bullying. Unfortunately however, for many Managers, the performance review process can often result in bullying and harassment claims.  The process usually goes like this…

  1. Employee is unhappy with their performance review
  2. Employee refers their complaint to HR or lodges a workers compensation claim to be investigated by the insurance company
  3. A contracted Mediator is introduced to each party and discusses their concerns separately
  4. The Mediator brings the two parties together to assist with communication and attempts to resolve the issue
  5. The issue is either resolved, handed back to IR or escalated to the Fair Work Ombudsman or other legislative body

Performance reviews are the norm in businesses today, however employers need to tread carefully when providing feedback on the quality and timeliness of work and performance, especially when they have been known to disagree with certain individuals in the past. Disagreements and head-butting are also normal, but bullying and harassment claims as a result are not. Follow our advice on the best way to conduct a performance review, reducing the risk of such claims:

  1. Before the review even begins, ensure any issues are dealt with at the time of occurrence – don’t wait until a workers performance review to bring up any issues, especially around safety, as the employee may think you’re knit-picking.
  2. Keep a written record of any issues – not only do you have evidence to back up your claims, but if issues progress to Fair Work, without a record demonstrating that you’ve dealt with the issue at the time, they may infer that you’ve condoned specific behaviour.
  3. Be consistent – across all employee communication, praise and feedback, values, practices and policies. Consistency ensures that workers don’t see your behaviour or reaction as more aggressive towards them than other employees, or unfair treatment.
  4. Follow procedure – ensure all paperwork has been filled out prior to the performance review and let the worker review it before the actual review takes place. This gives them time to form a response, provide situational examples and pose questions.
  5. Particularly for inferior reviews, have another management level staff member or supervisor join you and take notes. This allows you to backup any claims or comments made in the meeting, and will avoid a he-said, she-said situation.
  6. Let the worker have a support person – for a similar reason, the worker will be able to backup any claims or comments, as well as feel as though they’ve been fairly treated and supported throughout the process.

If performance issues need to be addressed, ensure that you are constructive and supportive, and provide feedback on the positive and negative outcomes. When treated with respect and when policies, procedures and guidelines are followed, there should be no reason for a performance review to turn into a bullying and harassment claim. For further support, or advice on how to manage these types of claims, contact your Work Health Safety Provider.




Why work is the best treatment for injury recovery

The statistics are proof: work, wellbeing and general health are mutually beneficial. But a common belief among injured workers (and employers) is that ‘I need to be totally fit, well and completely recovered before returning to work’. Not true; good return to work outcomes are more likely when workers and employers understand the health benefits of work, and are empowered to return to work to aid their recovery.

Australian and New Zealand healthcare professionals, along with Government agencies, have been researching the topic since 2011 and have committed to a consensus statement regarding the positive relationship between health and work, and the negative consequences of long-term work absences.

Let’s hash it out.

Impacts of worklessness

Of all people who sustained an injury at work in 2018, 30% ended up leaving the workplace as a result of their injury or illness, and 16% were no longer working in the role in which the work-related injury occurred.

Numerous studies within Australia and globally have discovered that long-term worklessness leads to:

  • A loss of self-esteem and identity within the community
  • A halt to social participation and fulfillment
  • 2 to 3 times poorer physical and mental health, as well as delayed recovery
  • Financial stress and difficulties
  • Higher hospital admission rates
  • In extreme circumstances, increased mortality rates

If a person is off work for 20 days, their chance of returning is 70%; if they’re off work for 45 days, their chance of returning is 50%; and if they’re off work for 70 days, their chance of returning is only 35%. It’s fair to say that the associated costs of worklessness are substantial and often severe. But so too are the potential benefits for change.

Health benefits of work

Employer-supported, early return to work helps recovery, prevents de-conditioning and helps provide people with appropriate social contacts and support.

Rehabilitation is part of the recovery process, as is work; the challenge is changing perceptions to view it that way. But when listing the benefits of early return to work, it’s hard to ignore the advantages:

  • Faster physical recovery and function as a result of movement
  • Workers feel as though they are making a contribution to society, their family and community
  • Provides a sense of pride, identity and personal achievement
  • Enables workers to take part in social activities, build relationships and gain support
  • Provides financial security and therefore independence
  • Gives structure to days and weeks
  • Improves self-esteem, self-satisfaction and gives workers the means to challenge and develop themselves
  • Reduces psychological stress and improves mental health
  • Decreases the likelihood that workers will engage in antisocial behaviours
  • Leads to lower morbidity rates

So how do we (employers, workers, legislative bodies, Government) collectively promote the necessary shifts in understanding that work, in general, is good for return to work outcomes? Here are 7 simple steps for employers:

  1. Leadership – fostering and consistently demonstrating that safety in the workplace is crucial, will allow the adoption of a positive workplace culture from the top down.
  2. Policies and Procedures – ensure that the company has written Policies and Procedures in place to prevent workplace injuries and illness, which go beyond legislative requirements, and are specific to the business and industry. Embrace inclusive WHS best practices. And if you have existing Policies and Procedures in place, give them an audit to ensure they’re up to scratch.
  3. Safety Training – all safety training needs to be consistently reiterated, educated and implemented.
  4. Encouragement – offer encouragement and support to employees who are interested in staying fit and healthy. Provide some small health incentives or offer Corporate Wellness Programs where possible.
  5. Consult a Return to Work Provider – an industry expert will provide individual case management, assist employees to access medical care and treatment providers, provide progress reports and assist in an efficient return to work of the employee. They’ll also ensure that restoration of working life is closely alligned to clinical goals.
  6. Offer Suitable Duties – an injured worker may not be able to return to work in their full capacity straight away. Provide altered or alternate duties to get them back to work sooner, aid in recovery and improve productivity.
  7. Communication, communication, communication – keep lines of  communication and support open for any injured worker and ensure you’re receiving regular updates from the Return to Work provider. The more active you are ensuring the worker still feels valued throughout the process, the faster their recovery and return to work is likely to be.

As Rehabilitation Providers and Return to Work Specialists, we know that most common health conditions will not be cured by treatment alone; work is a therapeutic intervention and should always be a part of the treatment process. We also know that employers play a big part in the return to work process; employer-supported return to work, positive communication and support is the best way forward to shift beliefs around recovery and work, and ultimately getting injured workers back to work sooner.

Related reading:

Video: 5 common workers’ comp questions answered

Why leadership and culture is imperative to safety

How to promote corporate wellness when it’s not your primary role

Case study: when altering your reactions can affect RTW outcomes

How to promote corporate wellness when it’s not your primary role

It’s a pretty straight-forward formula: healthier employees = higher productivity + less sick days + reduced stress + better morale. But what happens when corporate wellness is not actually your primary job, but your job description just happens to have a tiny reference to ‘promote health and wellness’ listed within it?

You’re not the only one… many small businesses try to promote health and wellbeing within their organisation, yet don’t have a dedicated corporate wellness manager, or the budget to contract an external provider. And the reality is, to implement wellness strategies and programs can often take up more time and resources than what you have available. But the good news is, there are plenty smart ways to execute corporate wellness which are easily implementable and can cost very little or nothing at all.

Here’s where to start:

  1. Make it useful – if people think they will benefit from it, they’re more likely to use it. Start by taking a quick survey of employees to determine what they want out of a corporate wellness program. Alternatively, or in addition, you might like to direct them to a wellness quiz such as ‘find out your real age’ or ‘how healthy are you’, which are in abundance on the web. This might kick them into gear to recognise the importance of their health and also give you a starting point to track progress and program success.


  1. Choose one thing and do it well – not every organisation can afford to build a fully-equipped on-site gym or hire personal trainers for their staff. But you don’t have to… there are plenty of small steps to take (see the list below) which, when done well, can make a big impact on physical and emotional wellbeing. And by focusing on one initiative at a time, you still have a long list of health ideas to keep the motivation going for months to come.


  1. Be visible – there’s no point in implementing anything without people knowing about it. Use posters, staff notices, email and social media groups to let employees know what’s happening. Research suggests that in order for people to take notice, a message should be exposed between 5 and 7 times!


  1. Get feedback – if employees don’t enjoy it the first time round, they won’t want to do it again. Simple. Survey employees, or ask them face to face, for positive and negative feedback, recommendations and suggestions. Because the reality is, if people are enjoying their time spent on their health, and are engaged, the business will benefit just as much as the individual. Try to provide regular touchpoints to check in with employees and track progress.

Statistics regarding Australian workers and wellbeing

Despite your budget, resources or time constraints, there are plenty of creative ways to promote corporate wellness and provide employees with some stimulation outside of work, whilst still being at work. Here are some suggestions which may be a good place to start:

  • Host ‘walk and talk’ meetings where employees can step away from the boardroom and take a walk around the block instead for shorter meetings or briefings
  • Introduce ‘health challenges’ which may provide an incentive for the winner i.e. ‘10,000 Steps Challenge’
  • Provide healthy snacks in the work kitchen
  • Offer flexible working arrangements so that employees can focus on healthy living and work-life balance
  • Offer Employee Assistance Programs to assist employees who may be struggling with poor mental health or need assistance in managing work and life stressors
  • Consider ‘health adventures’ such as rock climbing or hiking for bonding experiences rather than after-work drinks
  • Salary sacrifice gym memberships or other health subsidies
  • Place motivational signage around the workplace encouraging employees to prioritise their health and wellbeing
  • Provide access to showers and/or storage lockers if possible and encourage employees to walk or ride to work
  • Provide bike racks
  • Hire a yoga or fitness instructor once a month (or as frequent as reasonable) to lead employees in a class
  • Provide stand up desks if possible and encourage regular movement
  • Set aside a time each week for employees to take a quick 10 minute stretch break – have an employee lead the group

It is said that it takes around 66 days to break a habit so it’s important to remember that real change can take time. By implementing some form of corporate wellness program into your business, although you may be starting small, you are making a positive change towards a healthy workplace and positive safety culture. Remember to listen to employees wants and needs, do one thing well and be consistent = employees = higher productivity + less sick days + reduced stress + better morale.



5 Common Workers Comp Questions Answered

Our Senior Injury Management Specialist Diana Hurst guides you through our most common questions regarding Workers Compensation claims.

The importance of critical incident debriefing in preventing psychological injuries

SafeWork NSW has recently circulated information highlighting the risk of crush injuries, as a result of two fatal incidents where truck drivers have died while working on or near their trucks. And it got us thinking… what about the psychological injuries caused to others who are unfortunate enough to witness incidents like these?


History tells us that high risk industries are almost guaranteed to succumb to a worker fatality at some point.


As of the 6th of June there had been 64 Australian workers killed at work in 2019. In 2018, that number totalled 157.


What history also tells us, is that for those who are exposed to or involved in a workplace incident, the first two hours are critical in assisting workers deal with their physical and emotional reactions.

And the reason being is because exposure to critical incidents can lead to significant distress; recurrent thoughts, anxiousness, mood changes, restlessness and shock. And gone untreated, distress can lead to long-term physiological issues such as Acute Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

By providing really early intervention to a fatality or major incident on site, psychologists can counsel workers to assess their current state of mind, diagnose shock and determine if they are at risk of developing long-term psychological injuries.

Here are five critical incident management tools to assist in supporting workers:

1. If you’re in a high risk industry, prepare workers for a possible critical incident:
• Develop procedures for responding to and identifying critical incidents and ensure staff are educated and aware of procedures
• Contract suitably qualified safety consultants with experience in critical incidents and critical incident management
• Asses the workplace for safety hazards and ensure all necessary PPE is available

2. Demobilisation (rest, information and time out) is the best way to calm workers following a critical incident, ensuring their immediate needs are met as soon as possible:
• Convene with all workers, summarising the incident and clarify any uncertainties (ensure all workers have the opportunity to ask questions)
• Provide Psychological First Aid (supportive and practical assistance via assessing needs and concerns, ensuring basic needs are met and connecting people with information)
• Provide a course of action moving forward, and alter workplace responsibilities and roles where necessary

3. Defusing (immediate small group support) should be conducted by a qualified employee or external contractor and is an opportunity for workers to review the event, talk about what happened, receive advice and support. Defusing should take place within 12 hours of the critical incident occurring.

4. Debriefing as a group should take place approximately one week after the critical incident. It is an opportunity for workers to put things into perspective once they’ve had a chance to process what has happened. Often a knee-jerk reaction to a critical incident will be that ‘I don’t need to talk about it’, but often within a few days the worker may find that they are now experiencing other psychological or physical issues as a result. Debriefing allows a qualified counsellor or safety expert to assess the risk of long-term psychological injuries, determine if acute stress is present for individual workers, and can provide management techniques and tools to handle emotional reactions.

5. Follow-up support is key in psychological injuries; shock around trauma is known to manifest over time and can worsen if not addressed or spoken about. If workers find that their shock builds momentum, they are losing sleep, having recurring thoughts of the incident and are struggling to move on with every day duties, this may be a sign of a psychological injury such as acute PTSD. Workers who expressed significant concerns at earlier stages of the critical incident management process should have continual follow up support with a trained professional.

When it comes to preventing the onset of shock, and potentially acute stress or PTSD, after a critical incident, it’s recommended that all workers be involved in the critical incident debriefing process. Although many workers will be able to return to normal duties within a short time frame, if not immediately, it’s important to note that serious accidents are one of the leading causes of PTSD in Australia. But more importantly, it’s treatable and, with the right help, avoidable.

For more information or help with regards to critical incidents and psychological injuries, see our Work Health Safety Services or call 02 9957 1300.

Workplace Health and Safety Policies: employer versus employee responsibilities

It is a common misconception that maintaining a safe workplace and reducing hazards lies solely with the employer… but it’s important to note that employees have responsibilities too. Employees should be well versed in the company WHS Policy and positively contribute to a risk-adverse safety culture.

Did you know that 36% of Australian workers think that risks are unavoidable in the workplace? Or that 24% think that minor incidents are normal at work? Pretty big numbers, huh? Does this sound like people who are aware of their safety responsibilities? And employers aren’t completely innocent either… 18% think that workplace risks are unavoidable.

This is why correct policy and communication is imperative to your business. So what are the differences between employer and employee responsibilities around safety? Let’s break it down:

Employer’s responsibilities:

• Prepare, share and acknowledge the company WHS Policy and ensure all employees are aware of their safety responsibilities
• Minimise or eliminate all hazards and safety risks whereever possible
• Ensure all relevant safety legislation is adhered to, and written into the policy
• Provide all employees with appropriate training, ensuring that they can confidently and safely perform tasks
• Provide all necessary PPE and safety equipment
• Consult and communicate with employees on all things related to safety, health and wellbeing
• Have a suitable reporting process where employees can advise of any risks or health and safety concerns
• Have a detailed return to work program prepared should an injury occur
• Consult an injury management specialist as soon as an injury occurs

Employee’s responsibilities:
• Be aware of and adhere to all company WHS policies and procedures, including following safe work practices
• Wear all provided PPE and utilise safety equipment where instructed
• Report any hazards, injuries or incidents to management using appropriate reporting channels
• Take reasonable care and precautions with regard to your own safety
• Participate in all safety training and consult with a supervisor when unsure
• Report to work in a state which is fit and safe for duty

Want to change your WHS Policy for the better? Take these points, adapt them to your business and copy them straight into your policy! Because if there’s anything we’ve learnt here, it’s that no matter where you think your company’s policy stands, it could always use a health check. And not only when you’ve recruited new employees, altered job responsibilities or moved premises, but any day of the week! Adopt an ‘analyze, improve and share approach’, and create a collaborative risk-averse safety culture.

Managing Employee Mental Health
Managing Employee Mental Health – ​Why It’s Good Business

Are employers responsible for the mental well-being of employees?

At some stage in their life most employees will experience some sort of personal difficulty, emotional trauma or mental health issue.

Whilst the issue may or may not be a direct result of their employment, it can have a significant impact on the employee’s ability to perform their job or, in fact, even stay in their job.

It can also affect other workers around them and impact the business in terms of decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, reduced presenteeism, loss of a skilled and valued employee, and increased recruitment costs.

For  more information see Work Options  “LightHouse Keeper – Navigating Safe Workplaces” Managing Employee Mental Health