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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry


Case Study: correct ergonomic setup when working from home – important for both you and your staff

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the world has moved to a reality where many people are working from home.  Kitchen benchtops and dining room tables have now become workspaces.  For a lot of people, getting the correct home office setup can be a challenge.

When staff are working from home, employers are still responsible for WHS practices and maintaining the health and safety of their people – including ergonomics.  However, many organisations can find themselves unprepared to ensure that they protect their staff from injury and strain whilst working from home.

A recent case in point is TAD, a not-for-profit that changes the lives of people living with a disability by providing personalised technology, equipment and services.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, TAD only had very few staff working from home and only occasionally.  As a result, with the onset of the restrictions, their first priority was get their technology sorted out to enable people to work remotely.

As they started having meetings via video conference, it became clear that some people were inappropriately setup for work.  They noticed staff sitting at their laptops on their beds, dining room tables and other unsuitable workspaces.

They realised that they faced two issues:

  • They needed to educate their staff how to correctly setup their workspaces to avoid potential injuries
  • That the senior management and directors of the organisation had a responsibility to maintain the health and safety of their staff or face a potential personal liability if something happened to any of their employees whilst working from home.

So, they started looking for a service that was simple and cost effective to help them educate their staff and ensure they were doing the right thing from an WHS perspective.  They started searching online and came across Work Options’ virtual training solution and felt that it was exactly what they needed, as it provided a guide to help staff correctly set up their work stations, a simple, yet comprehensive checklist for the workstation, and a second checklist for general safety in the home.

As a result, they were able to very quickly get all their staff to check their existing setup and complete the checklists.  Subsequently, they are now able to see during their video calls a great improvement in their people’s setup.

“As CEO, I’ve been able to assure my Board that we have the working from home WHS aspect covered and that we are looking after the health and wellbeing of our people.”  Dr Anthony Lowe, Chief Executive Officer, TAD

The outtake here is that every organisation should ensure that they educate their staff about correct ergonomic setup both at work and when working from home.  Properly educated and set up employees is a positive outcome for both the staff member and the organisation’s management.  As an employer, you are protected against the risk of an employee having an injury and the employee feels that their health and safety of being looked after.

Learn more about workplace health and safety training:
Workplace Health and Safety Training
Working from Home Ergonomic Setup 

Case Study: Why Fitness for Work Assessments are a Win-Win for Employers and Employees

We’ve heard about hundreds of cases in Australia where an employer is legally prosecuted for discrimination against a potential employee, due to the result of a pre-employment medical. It usually goes something like this…

  1. Employer advertises for an upcoming position, interviews candidates and creates a shortlist
  2. Employer offers a potential employee the position, provided they pass a pre-employment medical
  3. The potential employee undertakes the medical however is declared ‘unfit’ due to an underlying or pre-existing medical condition (which may or may not actually deem that person unfit to do the job)
  4. The potential employee does not get the job and sues the employer for discrimination
  5. The employer is burdened with unnecessary stress and thousands of dollars in legal fees and compensation, which could have been avoided by completing an initial Fitness for Work Assessment

Unfortunately it’s all too common and, unfortunately, rarely do we hear about the cases where the employer is found not guilty, where their decision was made solely on a task-based analysis rather than a job description.

Let’s look at the case of Duncan v Kembla Watertech Pty Ltd [2011] where a job candidate, Ms Duncan, brought a disability discrimination claim against a prospective employee, Kembla Watertech.

The prospective employer completed a Fitness for Work Assessment, rather than a generic medical exam, which considered the physical and cognitive demands of the role, as well as a detailed account of required movements. The specialist performing the assessment found that Ms Duncan suffered from a number of conditions that would deem her unable to perform the required tasks safely, and may in fact aggravate existing medical conditions. Kembla Watertech did not proceed with Ms Duncan’s employment, as she was unable to perform the inherent requirements of the proposed job, to which she lodged a disability discrimination claim. It was found that the evidence from the Fitness for Work Assessment supported the employer’s claim that Ms Duncan would not be able to safety perform the role and the case was dismissed.

The lesson learnt here is that when a pre-employment Fitness for Work Assessment is implemented appropriately, and conducted by a trained allied health professional with insight into the specific role on offer, it can be a win-win situation for both employers and employees; not only does an employer hire the right person for the job, but the employee knows that their health and safety is being cared for, they are not being discriminated against – but rather protected from working unsafely.

So when you’re next hiring and thinking about utilising a pre-employment Fitness for Work Assessment, consider it carefully. Done properly, a Fitness for Work Assessment is more thorough, provides protection against discrimination claims and assists in getting you the right person for the job.

Learn more about ‘Medicals versus Fitness for Work Assessments and why they’re important for business’.

Case Study: when a pre-employment medical can put you at risk of discrimination claims

When hiring new employees, employers often put themselves at risk of discrimination, either advertently or inadvertently and despite the best intentions. Chalker v Murrays Australia Pty Ltd [2017] is a great example of this, and demonstrates how a general medical screen can go wrong if not completed properly.

In this case, Murrays Australia was ordered to pay a job candidate $10,000 compensation as the result of mental health discrimination during the recruitment process. So what happened?

As part of the application process for a Coach Driver position, Mr Chalker was required to declare if he suffered from any medical condition, disability or injury that may have an effect on his performance or the duties in the prospective job. Mr Chalker had been diagnosed and medicated for a mental health condition, borderline personality disorder, however believed that it would not affect his ability to perform the duties of the role. He answered ‘no’ and, during an interview, was told that given his experience there would be a job for him as soon as he was able to undergo a driving test and obtain his NSW public vehicle certificate.

Subsequently, Mr Chalker was sent for a pre-employment medical exam with a GP. Having disclosed his mental health condition and medication, during the assessment, the doctor found Mr Chalker to be ‘agitated, irritable and difficult’ during the interview. The doctor found him temporarily unfit for the position pending further inquiries and an assessment by an independent psychiatrist. After reviewing the doctor’s report, Murrays Australia decided against hiring Mr Chalker, claiming his temporary unfitness was the decisive factor.

The Tribunal found Murrays Australia’s argument that Mr Chalker could not perform the inherent requirements of the role, and therefore should not be offered employment, to be false, and that his disability or medication had no effect on his ability to safely drive a bus.

And this is why a general medical screen can often be dangerous; not only ruling out a candidate who can actually perform the role, potentially ruling in a candidate who shouldn’t be, and opening up the flood gates to discrimination claims.

So what is the best way to find the right person for the job, whilst protecting against the risk of discrimination? A comprehensive Fitness for Work Assessment (F4W©), conducted by a trained professional, is crucial in the recruitment process. A good F4W© considers the actual physical and cognitive demands of the role and directly assesses a candidate’s ability to perform those tasks safely. It is based on a task analysis, not a job description, and a detailed account of physical or mental (cognitive) work required for the role.

Employers should ensure that any recruitment decision is based on these factors only to avoid putting themselves at risk. Regardless of whether you consult a Fitness for Work provider, or follow your company recruitment procedure, ensure you follow these steps when medical assessments are required for a role:

  1. Perform a task analysis and assess the candidate against those tasks only – understand the physical and cognitive requirements of the job, rather than just the responsibilities
  2. Ensure the right people conduct the assessment – it needs to be a qualified and experienced person, who fully understands the inherent requirements of the job
  3. Provide a recommendation of the candidates suitability for work based on a scale of capability to complete the role safely – a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ significantly contributes to risk of discrimination. A good assessment should provide recommendations for reasonable adjustments and/or further assessment of the candidate if more information is needed.
  4. Only ask questions specifically related to the role and performing it safely – too many personal questions can not only be unnecessary and unrelated, but also an invasion of privacy

A quick Google search is all it takes to find a myriad of cases just like this one. Unfortunately, discrimination claims are brought against employers all too often, even when the correct procedure is followed. Protect yourself against the risks of claims and ensure a good Fitness for Work Assessment forms part of your recruitment process.

Related reading:
The difference between a medical assessment and Fitness for Work

 

Case Study: When altering your reactions can affect RTW outcomes

At Work Options we see many situations where a worker submits a claim for an injury at work, and doesn’t always have the experience they expect. In this case study, we look at a landscape labourer who was suffering from unknown mental health issues, and an employer who could have acted differently to avoid a negative and costly experience for both the employer and worker.

Case Study:

Ron* was a 38 year old labourer working for a landscaping business in New South Wales when he tripped on-site and fractured his right elbow, resulting in a worker’s compensation claim. Due to the nature of his work and the injury sustained, Ron was deemed ‘unfit’ for work and took temporary leave whilst he recovered. Whilst on leave, the employer made no attempts to communicate with Ron, until 6 weeks post-injury and post-surgery, when Ron was given the capacity to return to work in alternate duties. At that time the employer did not engage in discussion with Ron, but rather sent him a pre-drafted return to work plan outlining office-based duties.

Ron became frustrated with the lack of communication and spoke aggressively to colleagues who were contacting him via phone, the insurance agency and the Workplace Rehabilitation Consultant. The employer responded to Ron’s frustration by telling him to ‘pull himself together and understand that they were trying to support him’.

After a number of weeks of non-communication between Ron and the employer, Ron made a suicide attempt. Following this, Ron spent extended periods of time at home, not engaging in normal self-care or hygiene practices, which further isolated him from any support outside of his family. It was then discovered through Ron’s wife that there was an extensive history of mental health in his family.

Over the next several months, Ron rejected any communication attempts from the employer and insurance company, made three additional suicide attempts and was admitted to two impatient units for a combined total of 15 weeks. The employer became frustrated with Ron’s aggressive behaviour, considering it inappropriate, and elected to no longer attempt to engage with him.

After two years Ron had still not returned to work and his mental health did not improve during this time.

Recommendations:

  1. Communication is key! As soon as an employee is injured at work, it is important that the employer or a colleague checks on them regularly to ensure that they feel supported and are open to the recovery process. In this case, if communication lines were open, it would have been easier for the employer to determine that Ron was suffering from a mental health condition, which could have been managed and potentially prevented from escalating to suicide attempts.

Open communication may seem like a simple step however is often not done, particularly when mental health is concerned, for fear of making it worse for the individual.

 

  1. It is important to understand that, even when introducing positive changes, people experiencing low mental health will often react emotionally and can feel increased stress with change. This is likely how Ron felt when he received a return to work plan outlining alternate duties, without first being notified. By consulting Ron initially, he would have felt as though he had some input on the plan itself, and felt compassion from his employer.

This logic also applied when a person is still working within the workplace – businesses have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace environment when a worker has disclosed low mental health, and that person needs to be a part of that discussion.

 

  1. Using language such as “we will work through it together” or “we are here to support you” shows empathy for the injured workers situation and allows them to feel valued. In this case, using language like “pull yourself together”, gave the opposite effect and caused Ron to stop communication altogether. This behaviour known as ‘avolition’ or ‘demotivation’ is typical for people experiencing low mental health, and is a sign that they often need more support to help them during these periods. It is important that if things have escalated to this point, professional advice should be sought. Suicide is fundamentally a coping strategy, a sign that a person doesn’t have a better way of coping or needs more communication around their mental health experience, and should be done professionally.

 

  1. Often people with low mental health such as Ron don’t understand why things happen unless it is explained to them; again, communication is key. Despite non-communication from Ron over the next several months as well as additional suicide attempts, although his aggressive behaviour was in fact unacceptable, reasonable attempts need to be made to explain why the employer’s communication will cease.

Although Ron’s reactions to his alternate duties were considered aggressive and unreasonable, his actions are realistic for someone suffering with a mental health condition. If your seeing signs similar to this case in your workplace, ensure that you initiate engagement, provide communication and support, and show compassion. Follow these steps, suggest and seek professional support if required, and preserve employee performance at work.

 

 

Understanding How Psychosocial Barriers to Pain Affect RTW Outcomes

Have you ever been for a routine chiropractic appointment and met with, ‘Oh wow, you’re back is really out of alignment’ before a click and a crack has you sorted? But then in another week or two your back starts to ache and you automatically think ‘my Chiropractor said my back is out and it’s hurting again so I obviously have a bad back.’ Think about it… have you actually always had a bad back and since your Chiropractor has pointed it out, you’re more sensitive to back pain? Or have you just been sitting for a long time and need to stretch out, or lifted a heavy box from an awkward position? Perhaps there are a range of other factors that are impacting your perception of pain…

The psychosocial approach to pain looks at the combined influences of factors – or barriers – within a social environment, and determines the effects they have on physical and mental wellness. Beliefs, values and behaviours are examples of these barriers which can impact on an individual’s pain threshold and perceived pain tolerance.

Pain threshold refers to the point at which a stimulus causes pain that can no longer be tolerated, whereas pain tolerance refers to putting up with pain day to day. In order to recover, an individual must tolerate pain in order to increase physical capabilities, which ultimately then increases pain threshold.

So how does this all relate to return to work outcomes? Often an injured person will tell themselves that they can’t do something, or they can’t function at full capacity, because of their injury. As a result, they start to move less in fear of making their injury worse, which is the opposite of what they need to do to make it better, slowing down their recovery time. Their thought process goes something like this:

Injury Management Specialists will tell you that a fast and efficient recovery and return to work is about increasing physical capabilities which will therefore increase pain threshold, and reduce reliance on passive treatment and medications, in order to gain a sense of empowerment and return to their pre-injury state.

Here’s how an Injury Management Specialist will assist an injured worker reduce the impact of psychosocial barriers, and get back to work sooner:

  • Provide rehabilitation services, recovery strategies and mediation between doctors and specialists to manage pain, with sustainable upgrades in capacity to increase function
  • Set personal goals for increases in self-efficacy, improved relationships, mood and reduction in pain through personal, domestic, work and community
  • Provide pain education and encourage shifting beliefs about pain:
    • Provide valuable and educational resources beyond Google
    • Listen to what the worker hears, rather than what they are told
    • Checks in to identify what they’ve learnt and put ideas into practice
  • Focus on reducing pain by encouraging the worker to reduce reliance on passive treatment, reduce pain medication and home help, and take control of their pain

Pain is a subjective experience; everyone has personal barriers when it comes to pain, which is often reflected in our actions. But what is important to understand is that psychosocial barriers to pain, and the fear of making an injury worse, can sometimes mean that pain gets worse anyway, or an individual develops chronic pain as a result. Defusion – changing the relationships with thoughts – and acceptance – turning off the struggle switch – are key factors in the psychosocial approach to pain and recovery. An Injury Management Specialist will use these tools, and others, to create a placebo affect, and shift pain beliefs by allowing increased confidence to function, the resolution of the cause of pain, and ultimately allow improvement in life and return to work as quickly as possible.

Consult an Injury Management Specialist or Return to Work Provider.

 

Why F4W Assessments are Critical in Recruitment

Our Senior Injury Management Specialist Diana Hurst takes you through the difference between Fitness for Work Assessments and a standard medical, and discusses why they should be part of your recruitment process.

Medicals vs. Fitness for Work Assessments (F4W©) and why they’re important for your business

“…fitting a square peg into a round hole is not only difficult, but damages either the peg or the hole” (Randolph, 2000).

Doctor provided ‘generic’ medical screens are common and relatively cheap. They usually include an assessment of hearing, eyesight, blood pressure, and a medical questionnaire, typically sourced from voluntary disclosure. But the issue with a ‘generic’ medical assessment is that they have the potential to miss important information, rule someone out unnecessarily, rule someone in who shouldn’t be, or open employers up to possible discrimination.

 

This is why ‘generic’ is dangerous and can actually be quite costly in the end. If a role does not require a specific function, let’s say overhead lifting, and you rule a good candidate out because they cannot lift their arm over their head, then not only have you missed out on a good candidate, but you may have exposed yourself to discrimination.

 

Likewise, what if you hired someone to do a physical role and they were carrying a back injury they did not disclose to the doctor, or ‘played it down’. They then aggravate their injury at your workplace, put in a valid workers compensation claim and have to stop work. This would be a disastrous outcome for both you and the employee, who is now injured and unable to work.

 

So how does a good Fitness for Work Assessment differ?

 

A good F4W© considers the actual physical and cognitive demands of the role and directly assesses a candidate’s ability to perform those tasks safely.

 

A good F4W© will be based on a task analysis. This is not a job description – which outlines things such as responsibilities, accountabilities or employment conditions, but rather a detailed account of the movements (like bending, kneeling, lifting), frequency of these (e.g. once/day vs 20/day), and load/force (e.g. push 25kg at waist level) required for the role. For example, the physical work an office worker does is entirely different to that of a plant operator – does it make sense for them to do the same test?

 

A good F4W© will be conducted by a trained allied health professional, such as an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist with experience in preventing and managing workplace injuries. These professionals understand the impact of injuries on work tasks, are trained to detect muscle weakness, poor techniques, signs of fatigue and strain and identify at-risk persons. Their recommendation is based on evidence-based clinical judgement. They can also offer reasonable and practical suggestions to allow you to engage someone with only moderate risk, such as aids/equipment or manual handling training or job modification.

 

A good F4W© will protect against discrimination and invasion of privacy. Asking questions or assessing things not related to the role can expose an employer to discrimination if you rule that person out based on those answers. Knowing the right questions to ask is crucial. For example, asking whether someone has had a previous workers compensation claim is fraught with danger – and does it matter anyway? What is more important is whether they can perform the role safely. Likewise, too many personal questions without valid reason can be an invasion of someone’s privacy and simply not relevant.

 

And long-term, a good F4W© assessment provides a baseline for determining how employees are affected by the work they do in your business. For example, an employer can assess the validity of an employee claiming industrial deafness, when in fact, they had diminished hearing prior to commencing employment.

 

Evidence shows that employees who are not tested for fitness for work have:

By completing an appropriate F4W© assessments, businesses can help reduce accidents, provide a safer workplace, reduce absenteeism and decrease workers compensation premiums and claims costs.

 

So, whilst it may seem tempting to take the cheap option, employers should consider whether this really will give you the protection and outcome you need. Or will it cost you much more in the end if you get it wrong?

 

Find out more about Fitness for Work services available.

Wellness at Work, Coffs Harbour

On Wednesday, 13th September, Work Options was pleased to be part of the ‘Wellness at Work’ event run by the Coffs Coast Safety Network.
The event was held in beautiful Coffs Harbour and attended by a strong turnout of employers interested in the health and well being of their people.
There were some really interesting talks, such as Jim Kelly, Director of Health & Return to Work, SafeWork NSW, who talked about putting the ‘H’ back into WHS. Another inspiring speaker was Becky Cole from local radio station, CHYFM, who spoke on creating a health, productive and inclusive workplace.
As exhibitors at the event it was wonderful to talk to so many local employers who genuinely wanted to improve their organisational well being. Our hats off to them!”