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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry


What does Australia’s drug and alcohol use mean for your business?

The Australian Government has just released the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019, which has revealed some interesting new trends in drug and alcohol use in Australia.

The results provide mixed news for employers when it comes to ensuring that they meet their obligations of maintaining a healthy, safe and productive workplace.

Some of the key trends include:
Fewer Australians are smoking
In 2019 11% of Australians surveyed were smoking daily, which was down from 12.2% in 2016. This downward trend was driven primarily by the younger generation turning their backs on smoking. However, they are increasingly using e-cigarettes.
Almost 58% of smokers said that the cost was motivating them to quit or cut back on their smoking.

This could be good news for employers – fewer breaks, healthier workers and as a result, less sick leave.

More Australians are giving up or reducing their alcohol intake as a result of health concerns
Between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of Australians surveyed who had given up alcohol had risen from 7.6% to 8.9%. The main reasons given for giving up alcohol were health concerns, such as weight loss and the desire to avoid hangovers.

Unfortunately, though, there has been little change in the proportion of Australians drinking at risky levels. In 2019, 25% of Australians were still drinking at risky levels at least once a month.

This highlights the importance for employers of ensuring that managers and supervisors remain vigilant in recognising the signs of employees who could be affected by the misuse of alcohol at home or at work, resulting in reduced productivity and the risk of work accidents.

More than 2 in 5 Australians survey had used an illicit drug in their lifetime and cocaine use is at the highest levels in almost 2 decades
In 2019, the most commonly used illicit drug was cannabis, with 11.6% of Australians using it in the last 12 months and 4.2% of Australians using cocaine in the last 12 months. The use of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy all increased between 2016 and 2019.

This is a concerning trend for employers, as regular use of illicit drugs affect an employee’s work performance and pose a risk to others in the workplace. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace, so it is important to ensure all your managers and supervisors are well trained in recognising the signs of drug and alcohol use and how to manage it. To ensure your managers are appropriately trained in drug and alcohol management, visit.

However, rates of substance abuse are falling among the younger generations.
Younger people today are less likely to drink, smoke or use illicit drugs, which may be because they simply have different habits or are more health conscious than older generations. Whilst rates of illicit drug use rose among older age groups over the period, only 1.2% of those aged 20-29 drank alcohol on a daily basis and rates of illicit drug use remained stable for those in their 30s and fell for those under 30.

This pattern could be positive news for employers taking on new employees early in their careers, as it seems they are less likely to have issues of substance abuse that could result in low productivity or risk of work-related accidents that could affect others.

Levels of smoking and use of illicit drugs vary depending on socioeconomic groups
Although smoking rates have fallen across all socioeconomic areas, those living in the most advantaged areas have fared the best. People living in the lowest socioeconomic areas who smoked on a daily basis were almost 4 times higher than those in the highest socioeconomic areas (18.1% vs 5%).

However, when it comes to recent drug use, those in the highest socioeconomic areas have the highest rates of recent drug use.

For more details of the 2019 survey, read the full report

These changing trends in drug and alcohol use present an important picture for businesses responsible for workplace health and safety. Whilst some of the trends are encouraging, others are a reason for concern. Understanding how different age groups and socioeconomic groups are using drugs and alcohol could be an important aspect of recognising the potential signs of misuse and managing potential problems in the workplace.

To ensure that your managers and supervisors have the appropriate training to
manage drug and alcohol misure in the workplace, visit Work Options or contact us today.

How to boost business performance through an employee counseling program

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides employers with a positive and proactive means of assisting employees who may be struggling with juggling personal and/or work-related issues. It involves the provision of personal counselling services, either in person or over the phone to help them work through their issues and result in a happier, more positive approach to their work. But did you know that an EAP can boost your business performance?

Here are six ways an EAP can boost staff and business performance and create a more productive and happier work environment:

  1. Decreased absenteeism and presenteeism and improved productivity
    Stress is one of the leading causes of reduced productivity at work. When employees are distracted by personal or work-related concerns, their minds aren’t on the job. In 2016, it was estimated that the Australian economy lost $34 billion a year in lost productivity due to presenteeism. An EAP can help tackle such issues and keep employees positive and engaged in the workforce.
  2. Improved employee engagement and retention
    Employees who have access to an EAP are more likely to be engaged in the workplace and more likely to stay with the same employer long-term.
    Employees feel more connected to an organisation who has supported them through difficult times and see this as a valuable part of their compensation.
    Happy employees are more likely to stay!
  3. Increased employer profitability
    On average, every worker takes three days off a year due to stress.
    According to a report by price Waterhouse Coopers, this costs the industry $11 billion a year. In contrast, employees who are at work, engaged and productive result in a return on investment for the employer and reduced claims costs. A 2017 study by Flanagan & Ots revealed that employers can expect a return on investment of 5-10 times what they initially invested.
  4. Improved management efficiency
    Managers are not always qualified or comfortable offering hands-on support to employees who are struggling with personal issues and can be quite time- consuming. Employees who have access to EAP services are more likely to get the qualified assistance they require, which can free up a significant amount of time and energy for managers.
  5. Improved morale and happier employees
    When a member of your team is struggling with personal or work-related issues, you may have to step in and pick up some of their workload. As a result, not only is your colleague struggling, but now you may be too. This doesn’t make for good morale and a happy workforce. Having access to an EAP enables employees to work through their issues and better themselves without adversely impacting on others, creating an overall happier and productive environment.
  6. Benefits to the employee
    EAPs enable employees to have free access to mental health services to help them resolve any issues that are impacting their lives. In addition, they can remain confidential and set up at a time that is convenience, either in person, over the phone or online.

Employee assistance programs are a proactive and preventative approach that enable early detection and resolution of work and personal problems and improve your bottom line.

To find out more about the benefits of an employee assistance program and how to implement one for your organisation, visit or contact WorkOptions

Top 12 essential elements of a Safety Management Program

Different industries all take different approaches to safety management systems.
Whether you’re a small to medium sized business or a large employer with thousands of employees, you need a thorough and well-documented safety management system to ensure that you and your employees are safe.

To establish a successful Safety Management Program, here are 12 essential elements to include:

  1. Planning
    Planning should be the first key component of any safety management program, whether you use a paper-based safety statement or dedicated WH&S software. This will help ensure that your organisation stays abreast of all the current Australian work health and safety rules and regulations.
  2. A means of distributing up-to-date documents
    This could be done via Google drive, another similar platform or simply on paper, but you need to have a system to ensure that up-to-date documents are distributed to the right people. Ideally, your system should have a user- friendly interface so that employees can easily understand what’s required. A great app we like to use is Safety Culture.
  3. Safety inspection checklists
    These checklists will help establish a baseline for the quality of inspections over time, regardless of who is undertaking them, and provide data on any areas that are either improving or declining over time.
  4. Risk assessments
    Risk assessments will help you protect your employees from potential harm and your business from potential fines or lawsuits by establishing areas of potential risk and being able to monitor their safety over time.
  5. An emergency response system
    Although you will hopefully never have to use it, it is important to have one in place just in case. It should include how to report an emergency; evacuation procedures and assembly points; procedures for shutting down operations; rescue and medical duties for workers assigned to perform them and contact details for individuals with more information.
  6. A training program and documentation system
    Employee safety programs will be tailored to your specific industry, but may include the likes of fire and earthquake drills, accident simulations and first aid. These training programs can save lives in the event of an emergency and prevent any further safety hazards. Remember, poorly trained staff can put an organisation at risk. It is good practice to keep documentation of all your training.
  7. An internal audit and safety schedule
    Health and safety audits are a good way to make sure you comply with health and safety laws. They can also help identify any strengths and weaknesses in your safety management program. These can be performed by either an internal or external auditor and should take place on a regular basis. They should be documented and used to develop new safety initiatives based on the recorded data.
  8. Have a list of laws and health and safety regulations on display for employee reference.
    This will assist with awareness of the laws and regulations and should be displayed in a prominent position.
  9. Establish an experienced safety management team
    This team will help ensure that your safety management program is being implemented on a daily basis. They will focus on preventing accidents and injuries, implementing guidelines and regulations and monitoring compliance. They will be tasked with implementing regular risk assessments, training staff and identifying hazards and will be key to making sure your workplace is safe and compliant.
  10. Establish measurable performance metrics
    These metrics will help you identify any areas in need of improvement and trends over time. There are many health and safety KPIs, but they include the likes of Lost Time Rate, Accident Rate and Working Days since last incident.
  11. Regular communication and management review
    Regular communication with staff is critical to ensure understanding and collaboration and can reduce confusion in the case of an emergency. It is important that your safety management program is reviewed regularly by senior management to ensure that it’s up-to-date and provide opportunities for continuous improvement.
  12. Certification
    Ideally, your system should be certified by a trusted third party to ensure that it is fit for purpose. A strong safety management program will help your organisation build confidence with your staff and customers, as it demonstrates that you are committed to workplace health and safety. These key components of a Safety Management Program should see you well placed to decide what system works best for your organisation. There is no one best solution, as every organisation has its own unique needs and requirements. To find out more about establishing a successful Safety Management Program, visit Work Options  or contact us  today to discuss a tailored plan for your business.

These key components of a Safety Management Program should see you well placed to decide what system works best for your organisation. There is no one best solution, as every organisation has its own unique needs and requirements.

To find out more about establishing a successful Safety Management Program, visit Work Options or contact us today to discuss a tailored plan for your business.

Returning to Work: supporting your employees through the transition

One in two workers still feel uncomfortable about returning to the workplace

As COVID-19 restrictions start to ease around Australia, organisations need to prepare to reopen their businesses and start bringing people back to work.  During this period of transition, there are some very specific work health and safety issues to consider.

Every business will have their own unique challenges. However, many concerns will apply across the board: where should we begin and how can we best protect our people? One thing is certain, the post-COVID-19 work environment will not be the same as the one your people left.

Whilst there are many new business considerations to take into account, such as changes to hygiene practices, workspaces, meeting facilities and technology to ensure the health and safety of your people, understanding the new situations your people may face should be taken just as seriously.  Whilst many will feel excited about the return to work, it is important to understand that there will be many who will also be feeling anxious and may not yet feel comfortable or safe returning to work.

What steps can you take to build a mental health culture to protect your employees’ mental health and safety during this tumultuous time? 

Have a plan
Make sure you have a plan in place before bringing employees back to work.  Communicating with your staff that you have a plan in place that complies with public health requirements will help them feel at ease.  This should involve the likes of a staggered reintroduction of staff back into the office; informing staff of your planned rigorous cleaning schedule of high contact surface areas and new rules about physical distancing in the office.

Undertake a psychological safety audit
This is the first step. Work Options can assist you to undertake a psychological audit to assess your organisation’s attitude towards mental health, and provide tools which will provide you with a baseline measure to gauge improvement.  Find out more about psychological safety audits.

Ensure you have a good mental health policy in place
A good mental health policy is critical in the de-stigmatisation of mental health throughout the organisation. It should outline the organisation’s definition on mental health, the organisation’s commitment to support staff, internal and external supports for staff and prompts for management to offer mental health support to staff. 

Highlight internal support resources you have in place for employees
Make sure your staff have access to and are aware of appropriate support resources you have in place, such as Human Resources, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and the organisation’s drug and alcohol policy.  Find out more.

Communicate regularly with your employees
It will be important to reassure your employees that it’s okay to feel anxious about returning to work and that you will support them through this transition.  Maintaining open channels of communication between management and employees will be critical.  Provide frequent updates – quality and quantity matter.

Learn to recognise mental health red flags
It is important for managers to learn to recognise potential signs of low mental health so that they can address the issue early.  Some signs may include difficulty concentrating, getting easily angry and frustrated and excessive absenteeism. Read our article on ‘Managing mental health in the workplace and spotting the warning signs‘.

Adopt more flexible work practices
Recognise that things are not normal.  To recognise and accommodate the new situation your employees face, you may need to take a more flexible approach, such as finding alternative modes of transport for those who rely on public transport, reviewing expectations around productivity as a result of frequent cleaning of workspaces, hand-washing breaks and other safety protocols, or further supporting remote working for those who need it.

Be empathetic
Talking to your employees about their mental health regularly is an important part of monitoring their safety during this transition.  It isn’t always about knowing what to say and being able to provide a solution, what’s important is how you talk about it.  Keep an open mind and be prepared to listen, even if you don’t agree with how they are thinking.  What they are experiencing feels real to them.

Employees and employers will need to be sensitive towards the stresses and anxieties that many will be feeling during these trying times.  Returning to work will be difficult for many, so communication, cooperation and adhering to new hygiene procedures will make the return to work safer for everyone.  Now, more than ever, it is critical to look after your employees’ mental health.

To learn more about how you can build a mental health culture and support your employees during this challenging time, visit https://workoptions.com.au/services/mental-health-consulting/ or contact us on 9957 1300.

Strategies for the New World of Work

The world of work today looks nothing like that of yesterday.  The COVID-19 crisis has bought some companies almost to a standstill, whilst others have been kicked into overdrive.  The trends that were emerging before the pandemic have accelerated – digital transformation has taken on a greater urgency, enabling businesses to pivot rapidly; the trend towards remote work has increased and the need to reskill and upskill people has taken on a new urgency.  For businesses to not only survive, but thrive, change isn’t an option.  The question is what strategies should businesses adopt in order to change?

Invest in your employees’ wellbeing
Look after your employees’ overall health and happiness.  This should include their mental health, general life satisfaction, sense of purpose and their ability to manage stress.  Business leaders need to be prepared to put in place programs and policies to take care of their employees’ wellbeing.  Make sure your managers are trained in recognising the signs of poor mental health and are familiar with strategies to prevent and respond to staff suffering from low mental health.  Find out more about managing your employees’ wellbeing.

Get on top of workplace health and safety
Now, more than ever, workplace health and safety needs to be top of mind.  Employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees and the pandemic has heightened employees’ concerns over their health and safety at work.  Ensure your staff at all levels have appropriate, industry-specific training to reduce the risk of workplace accidents, injury or illness.  Find more about  how to get your staff trained to be at the forefront of health and safety.

Embrace the technical revolution
There has been exponential growth of the impact of technical innovation, such as automation, robotics and AI.  These advances in technology means easier access to knowledge, not only simply for consumption, but transformation, interpretation and innovation.  Harnessing the power of these technologies will bring about new kinds of jobs, where workers are able to spend more time on creative, collaborative and critical tasks that machines aren’t able to handle.

Place commercial value on learning as an accelerator
Lifelong learning is now critical.  To create a workplace that is truly adaptable, businesses need to encourage their people to be continuously learning.  Businesses need to provide employees with more holistic learning that address all aspects of work life, including the likes of courses about stress management and effectively working from home.  We all need to adapt and develop 21st century skills. Upskill your people today with business specific training.

Develop a culture dominated by flexibility
Businesses have been talking about flexible work for years, but it became a necessity as a result of this crisis.  The question now is how quickly we transition back and to what extent.  Businesses need to question what work needs to be done by employees located in an office needing to adhere to social distancing, versus the benefits of working remotely.  We need to re-think what onsite work should look like and adopt strategies that are more reflective of what type of work is being done, rather than the job itself.  In order to thrive, businesses will need to become increasingly adaptive, agile and resilient. 

Consider a portfolio-based approach to work strategy
For a business to be genuinely flexible, agile and resilient requires a strategy that taps into the many options available, such as automation, gig talent, alliances and out-sourcing.  They need their employees to have the right skills at the right time to help diffuse risk, optimise cost, and be able to access the required capabilities.  Business leaders will need to apply creativity and innovation to the ways they employ new technologies like automation.  They will need to focus on the three key benefits of automation:  the substitution of many repetitive tasks, an increase in more variable work and new jobs for humans.

Focus on business-model resilience rather than efficiency and growth
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how volatile the world can be.  Going forward, companies will need to balance employees’ need for certainty and stability with the organisation’s need to pursue flexibility and agility.  This means a change in organisational culture, one where there is no more certainly and stability, but clarity and relevance in a constantly changing world.

Businesses need to adapt to the changing nature of work and train their people for the jobs of tomorrow.  We all need to move to a new world of work that invites change and innovation.  Is your business prepared? 

Upskill your people today.  Contact Work Options to find out about our tailored training courses at workoptions.com.au or call us on 9957 1300

 

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 

Managing mental health in the workplace: spotting the warning signs

Stress-related workers’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years in Australia, resulting in $146M in compensation claims annually.  With many Australians currently working in isolation and experiencing uncertainty about their employment situation, it is likely that the incidence of low mental health will increase.

7.5% of all serious workers’ compensation claims are for work-related mental health conditions

No matter how well employees are managed, some people will experience low mental health in the workplace. Spotting the signs of stress or low mental health early on means managers can help address the issues before they escalate.

Managers who know their staff and regularly hold catch-ups or supervision meetings

to monitor work and well-being are well placed to spot any signs of stress or low mental health at an early stage. Often the key is a change in typical behaviour. Symptoms will vary, as each person’s experience of poor mental health is different, but there are some potential indicators to look out for:

Behavioural indicators:
Many employees don’t feel comfortable stating stress, anxiety or depression as their reason for absence, taking regular shorter absences due to an ongoing problem.  Keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Taking a lot of sick days
  • Arriving late, leaving early or taking extended lunch breaks
  • Impaired or inconsistent performance
  • Uncharacteristic problems with colleagues
  • Disruptive or anti-social behaviour
  • Low productivity and concentration
  • Increase in risk-taking behaviour

Tip:  Try monitoring employee absence patterns, as an isolated event is rarely a sign of mental illness.  A symptom that occurs frequently, lasts for several weeks, or becomes a general pattern of an individual’s behaviour may indicate the onset of a more serious mental health problem that requires treatment.

Mental ill-health cost Australian workplaces $4.7 billion in absenteeism annually

Physical indicators:
People experiencing poor mental health may appear tired and lethargic, struggle to start or finish tasks and demonstrate an inability to make decisions. Some signs can include:

  • Appear tired and lethargic
  • Frequent headaches
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Visible tension, trembling or nervous speech
  • Changed sleeping patterns
  • Sweating or constantly feeling cold

Tip:  Try finding solutions to lighten the workload on your employees or distribute tasks more evenly among the team.

Psychological indicators:
Some people experience a change in mood and character when dealing with significant stress. This can vary from lashing out or bullying other staff, to skipping lunch breaks and having a more withdrawn personality than usual.  Some signs to watch out for might include:

  • Mood changes
  • Tearfulness
  • Indecision/inability to make decisions
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Uncharacteristic and erratic behaviour
  • Loss of motivation

54% of Australians with a mental health disorder will not seek any treatment

Tip:  Try holding regular, informal workshops to educate and openly discuss mental health issues.

To find out more about how to best manage the health and wellbeing of your employees and recognise the signs of poor mental health, contact Work Options on 9957 1300.

Hiring: should I conduct a pre-employment drug and alcohol testing or not?

Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing has been relatively common in industries such as mining, construction, transport and logistics in Australia.  It is now on the rise in white-collar industries as well, as companies try to prevent problems due to the increase in drug use in Australia.

You’re looking to hire a new employee and are now facing the dilemma of whether or not to conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol testing. As an employer, you have an obligation to eliminate or otherwise manage the risks of inappropriate drug and alcohol use.  However, testing workers for drug and alcohol use can be controversial, but also a vital part of your workplace health and safety program.

There are pros and cons of pre-employment drug testing. For one, it enables managers to minimise the risk of their staff using illegal drugs on the job, possibly leading to potential accidents. But many business owners shy away from testing their employees for drug and alcohol use because doing so could incur a considerable cost for the company.

Both sides present valid points, so it is important for you as a manager to research thoroughly before making a decision. Following are some reasons to consider whether you should or shouldn’t implement pre-employment drug and alcohol testing:

You should because:
Safety – maintaining a drug and alcohol-free workforce ensures that the environment remains safe and healthy.  This could minimise the threat of drug-related incidents.  Without pre-employment drug testing, it is very difficult for an employer to identify workers who may pose a risk to everyone in the workplace due to drug and alcohol misuse.

Work issues that may arise – the use of drugs and alcohol on the job may affect the quality of employee’s work, increase their absenteeism or coming in late and result in lost productivity.  The cost of pre-employment drug and alcohol testing may save your business money later on as a result of not having to re-hire or compensate an injured employee.

Possible legal liabilities – Drug and alcohol use on the job poses a clear risk to employers.  Should an accident occur caused by a drug-using employee where other staff members are injured, the employer could face legal liability because they failed to maintain a safe working environment.  Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing demonstrates that an employer is making an effort to ensure a safe working environment for everyone.

Company image and reputation – Should a drug-related incident in your business be reported in the press, it could be extremely damaging to your company image and reputation, as it doesn’t paint a picture of a company that a future client would trust with their business.

Improved staff morale – when staff know that their safety is taken seriously by their employer, it tends to raise morale.  They feel valued and more motivated and committed.

Employees with drug and alcohol problems need help – pre-employment drug testing is beneficial to the employee as well as the employer.  It can assist them with getting the help they need.

Common reasons employers shy away from testing:
Cost – Some employers believe that pre-employment drug and alcohol testing can be expensive and affect the business’ bottom line.

In reality, it is actually a very good return on investment.  A standard drug and alcohol test starts at around $40.  This is extremely little in comparison to the cost of accidents and injuries or brand damage.

Privacy issues – some employees feel it violates their privacy and their rights to choose how they spend their own free time.  It may also lead them to feel that their employer doesn’t trust them.

Workplace drug and alcohol testing is not only beneficial for the business owner, but for the drug-using employees as well. A drug test is not meant to humiliate a potential employee but assist them in getting the proper help that they need.

Potential lawsuits – drug and alcohol testing need to be clearly known to potential employees, otherwise they may take legal action depending on the consequences.

A sound drug policy that is demonstrably known to your employees is key to avoiding major legal issues.

So, to test or not to test?  The pros clearly outweigh the cons.  A drug and alcohol-free work environment is critical to ensuring the health and safety of all your employees.

Find out how you can minimise the risk of drug and alcohol use in your workplace or contact Work Options on (02) 9957 1300

Times have Changed: why employers need to adapt their thinking when recognising psychological injuries

Whilst hundreds of thousands of Australians are currently experiencing uncertainty and increased stress related to their employment status, financial security and health, there is no doubt that psychological injury rates will skyrocket in the coming months, and possibly even years to come. And regardless of employment status, industry or role, psychological injuries will not discriminate.

With 20% of Australians currently battling a mental illness or disease, what will this number look like in six, 12 or 18 months from now?

While employers may already take traditional steps to maintain positive mental health among their employees, with face-to-face contact now limited, recognising the symptoms of psychological injury, and consequently early intervention, is almost impossible unless the worker themselves speaks up.

Employers now more than ever need to take a proactive approach in recognising where potential psychological injuries may occur, and determine where the demands of work may exceed an individual’s ability to cope. Learn about the ‘mental health risks to isolated teams or people’ via our virtual training course.

Some examples of psychological hazards may include:

  • Working from home arrangements – while individual home and family lives differ, risks can arise when faced with combining working from home and caring for young children, home-schooling, relationship strain, loneliness and isolation when living alone, or domestic violence.
  • Poor organisational change management – with restructures inevitable for many businesses, lack of communication, information and support to workers may contribute to stress and uncertainty
  • Experience of violence or aggression – particularly for people working within healthcare, supermarkets, pharmacies and medical practices, customers accessing these services may be hostile and act irrationally or aggressively causing concerns for the mental health of workers.
  • Reduced or poor work environment – particularly when working from home or from temporary places, workers may be exposed to small or confined spaces, hot or cold, noisy or dark workplaces, which can contribute to anxiety and reduced comfort levels, as well as the potential for physical strain or injury.
  • Reduced or minimal support – particularly for people working from home where they may not have the resources or access to their usual support networks, workers may experience an increase in anxiety and stress, as well as a potential decrease in efficiencies.

With countless work-related situations and circumstances now presenting the ability to trigger psychological injuries, it’s obvious that employers need to look beyond relationship-building activities and Employee Assistance Programs to prevent them.

Here are seven reconsidered tips to assist in managing and recognising stress:

  1. Employers and/or Managers should have a basic understanding of individual worker’s home and family situation, whilst respecting privacy, and consider these factors when managing workloads and offering support.
  2. Regularly communicate with workers, particularly as changes are made to job roles, the working environment, industry or individual roles, and ask them directly if there is anything specifically contributing to their stress or causing concern. Learn how to ‘maintain positive mental health culture in isolated teams’ via our virtual Zoom training course.
  3. Inform workers of their entitlements, responsibilities and changes to their role as soon as known. Give workers the opportunity to provide feedback and discuss concerns.
  4. Provide workers with a point of contact to discuss any stressors, particularly with regards to psychological health, and take the immediate steps necessary to manage accordingly.
  5. Be conscious of increased work demands, for example where a restructure has resulted in more work for certain employees, and proactively support them.
  6. Stay informed with information and resources from official channels, and regularly communicate these to staff, sharing relevant information which is specific to job roles and industry.
  7. Maintain traditional mental health support services and resources, such as Employee Assistance Programs, and regularly remind workers of their right to access these services. Work Options are offering a 10% on EAP Services – contact us for a quote.

For further information in how to support mental health in a work setting:

 

Alcohol and Drug Awareness in the workplace: a Supervisor’s guide

Drug and alcohol misuse represents a significant hazard to the health and safety of employees, contractors, visitors and others impacted by the activities performed by any organisation.

Are you a supervisor or manager with direct reports? If so, there’s a reasonable chance that one or more of your direct reports will come to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol at some stage. If you suspect that is the case, what should you do?

Identifying and confronting issues of substance abuse is an awkward and complicated task, particularly in the workplace. However, handled with professionalism and compassion, the outcome can be positive for both the employer and employee.

As the main point of contact for the worker, no one is better positioned to note significant behavioural changes that affect performance than the supervisor. Careful handling of the substance misuse process will help ensure the best outcome for both parties.

Here are some tips for avoiding pitfalls when handling suspected substance misuse in the workplace:

As a supervisor or manager, your key obligation is to maintain a safe, secure and productive environment.

Some of the obligations to ensure this include:

  • Implementing your organisation’s drug and alcohol management system as it has been issued
  • Not imposing unreasonable pressures on your employees that might result in an increased risk of drug and alcohol misuse
  • Regularly evaluating and discussing performance with your staff
  • Keeping an eye out for any signs of misuse
  • Ensuring you maintain individuals’ privacy at all times
  • Acting in a manner that doesn’t demean or belittle people – including labelling them

Remember that it is not your responsibility to:

  • Diagnose drug and alcohol problems
  • Provide counselling or therapy
  • Judge people

Be open, upfront and proactive about your expectations and maintain an open dialogue about drug and alcohol misuse.

Company policies and procedures vary by industry and company size, but regardless of how many employees you may have, the rules and repercussions should be clearly explained to all employees up front. Spread awareness of your company policy by including it in employee manuals and training sessions. Find out more.

Ensure you are fully aware of your company’s drug and alcohol policy and procedures and educate your employees.

An organisation’s drug and alcohol management policy is intended to:

  • Protect the health and safety of all employees, customers and the public
  • Maintain product and service quality and company integrity and reputation
  • Comply with relevant legislation

Share it with your employees from the day they join the organisation and start the conversation before there are any issues.

Report any suspected drug and alcohol misuse straight away and learn to recognise the possible symptoms of impairment.

Recognising and confronting the signs of drug and alcohol use can be difficult, as it is a sensitive subject and the issue must be dealt with consistently, fairly and whilst maintaining individuals’ privacy.

For more detailed information about recognising the signs of drug and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options

If you have the slightest concern or suspicion of drug or alcohol misuse, it is your legal obligation to question it immediately.

It is always better to act and be wrong than to not act and have an accident occur as a result. If your concerns are genuine, you will need to approach the person concerned.

Deal with any individual suspected of drug and alcohol use with empathy.

As a supervisor, you have a duty of care to your employees. When dealing with someone who may be affected, treat them fairly and reasonably and ensure you respect their privacy at all times.

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’.

Oral Fluid Testing: how it works and what it can achieve in the workplace

Last month we looked at urine testing in the workplace, the advantages of implementing it as a preferred method of testing and what it can achieve for employers. In Australia, another common method of testing is oral fluid, which is thought by many to be a convenient way to reduce the risk of workplace drug and alcohol use, and its impacts.

Once again, it’s important to reiterate that the purpose of workplace drug testing according to Australian law is not about ‘catching’ employees who use drugs, but to reduce its negative impacts in the workplace. And although drug testing may shed insight into a workers personal life, a controversial area for some employees, employers have a legal obligation to protect their workers and workplace from any safety concerns.

‘10% of workplace deaths involve drugs or alcohol’

Contact Work Options to determine which testing method is best for your business.

What is an oral fluid drug test and how does it work?
Oral fluid or saliva testing measures the presence of certain illegal drugs and prescription medications via a mouth swab, much like a roadside drug test. Oral fluid tests are considered popular among employers, in part because they can be completed on-site, are considered less invasive than urine testing, and are relatively easy to administer.

Cut off levels for each drug class, for both initial and confirmatory testing, are set by Australian legislation (ASNZS 4760). Samples that contain drugs above the cut off concentrations are deemed positive.

Drugs detected through oral fluid:
ASNZ S4760 stipulates that the following drugs can be detected through oral fluid testing but does not exclude testing of other drugs such as Benzodiazepines:

The length of time a drug may still be detected after use can vary depending on a multitude of factors including the strength of a drug, individual metabolism and frequency of use, therefore timeframes should be used as a guideline.

What should be considered when oral fluid testing:

  1. When it comes to discretion, oral fluid testing is generally considered less invasive than urine testing, as only a private room is required. This is typically the main reason why employee groups and unions prefer oral fluid testing over urine testing.
  2. Where a drug class has been detected through initial testing at site, further testing is required by a NATA accredited laboratory.
  3. Samples with concentrations of drug above the cut off level (considered a positive drug screen) do not correlate with impairment but rather recent use. It is then inferred that that there is a risk that an individual may be impaired, and thus must be managed appropriately to ensure safety.
  4. When testing for cannabis, in contrast to urine testing which detects the THC metabolite, oral fluid testing detects the THC active element (or parent drug). For this reason, oral fluid testing is generally linked more with recent use and is therefore considered a better reflection of impairment.
  5. If a certified collector, in accordance with ASNZS 4760, conducts testing correctly the risk of adulteration is minimised.
  6. Oral fluid testing may detect prescription medications as well as illegal drug use.

‘$680 million in days lost to Australian workplaces due to drug and alcohol use’

Regardless of using urine or oral fluid testing methods, drug and alcohol testing can play a key role in protecting businesses from issues with Fair Work Australia, IR, unfair dismissal claims and the physical and financial burden of accidents and injury. However, no matter which testing method is used, the key to successful implementation for any business is:

  • A robust Drug and Alcohol Management System which focuses on education, training and support to prevent misuse in the workplace
  • A system which is developed in consultation with the workforce and complies with industry specific and other relevant WHS legislation
  • Should be applied, reinforced and implemented consistently
  • Sets a clear guide, including policies and procedures, with regards to codes of behaviour
  • Testing should be conducted by certified collectors in strict accordance with relevant standards

To find out more about drug and alcohol testing, or to determine if your business is at risk of drugs and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
How employers can avoid 5 big mistakes when drug or alcohol testing
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in drug and alcohol testing policies

Are employers legally required to offer Employee Assistance Programs?

Workplace Health and Safety legislation in Australia requires employers to provide a safe work environment that protects worker’s physical and mental health. While employers are not legally required to offer Employee Assistance Programs, they do have a legal responsibility to provide a psychologically safe workplace, and a duty of care and ethical responsibility to positively promote mental health. And there is an abundance of evidence proving that EAPs are an effective mental health tool for employees and employers alike. So why wouldn’t you provide this service to your staff?

An EAP is a confidential counselling service offered to employees and their families, who are seeking assistance with work stressors or conflicts, relationship issues, financial concerns, anxiety or any other issue, which has the potential to affect wellbeing.

With one in five employees in Australia suffering from poor mental health, the combined cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and psychological workers compensation claims, cost Australian businesses close to $11 billion annually.  So whatever the initial cause of the problem, employers need to recognise and respond to psychological risk factors, and put in place effective measures to minimise physiological harm and promote positive mental health.

EAPs can assist employees:

  • Learn how to deal with issues and receive coping strategies to manage these issues before they become a bigger problem
  • Get immediate access to help when stressors build up and escalate, resulting in a potentially critical incident
  • Assist employees feel supported by their employer and understand that their mental health and wellbeing is important
  • Provide assistance to those who may not be able to afford it
  • Improve productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism, by managing their issues in a proactive way
  • Stay at work or return to work sooner than if they had no help

EAPs can assist employers:

  • Provide a positive impact on business profits with better productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism – a Pricewaterhouse Coopers study showed that for every $1 spent on mental health initiatives, they receive a return on investment of $2.30 (more for gas, electricity, water, residential, commercial, construction and waste service industries)
  • To take a proactive role in promoting WHS practices, reducing risk and achieving a healthier work environment
  • To meet WHS obligations by protecting workers against harm to their mental health
  • Improve staff retention with happier, healthier employees who feel valued within their work community

For many Australian businesses an Employee Assistance Program is already an integral part of their mental health and WHS strategy. But for those who haven’t yet adopted this approach, it’s important to understand that pressures at home and pressures at work go hand in hand, and affect all areas of our lives without proper intervention.  For the best chance at creating a positive mental health environment at work, contact Work Options to discuss how our Employee Assistance Program can assist you.

Related reading:
An Employee Assistance Program Story
When stress in the workplace becomes a bigger issue
The role of an EAP in improving staff performance

Urine testing: how it works and what it can achieve in the workplace

Drug testing in the workplace is a common practice, particularly within high-risk industries who are at a greater risk of accidents and injury occurring. It’s important to note however, the purpose of workplace drug testing according to Australian law is not about ‘catching’ employees who use drugs, but rather to reduce the negative impacts – physical, financial, emotional or otherwise – of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

‘Drug and alcohol users lodge 5x more workers compensation claims than other employees’

In Australia both urine and oral fluid testing are acceptable means to test for drugs, however which one is right for an individual workplace depends on a range of factors, which includes industry specific legislation. Contact Work Options to determine which testing method is best for your business.

In this case we look at urine testing and what it can achieve in reducing the risk of workplace drug use and its impacts.

What is a urine drug test and how does it work?
A urine drug test analyses urine for the presence of certain illegal drugs and prescription medications, and is a common and accepted means of testing in Australian workplaces. Cut off levels for each drug class, for both initial and confirmatory testing, are set by Australian legislation (ASNZS 4308). Samples that contain drugs above the cut off concentrations are deemed positive.

Drugs detected through urine:
Urine testing screens for the following drug groups. But how long after a drug is used will it still be detected through a urine drug screen? This can vary depending on a multitude of factors including route of administration / strength of drug / individual metabolism. So there is no exact answer. However the following timeframes can be used as a guideline.

What should be considered when urine testing:

  • Whilst measures are taken to ensure privacy, typically urine testing is considered more invasive than oral fluid testing, due to the nature of collection. A bathroom or private room is required to make the collection, which can be viewed as an invasion of privacy by Fair Work Australia, and workers themselves, and may also be considered logistically difficult for some when conducted on work sites.
  • Where a drug class has been detected through initial testing at site, further testing is required by a NATA accredited laboratory.
  • Samples with concentrations of drug above the cut off level (positive drug screens) do not correlate with impairment. But certainly represents that there is a risk an individual may be impaired, and thus must be managed appropriately to ensure safety.
  • If a certified collector, in accordance with ASNZS 4308, conducts testing correctly the risk of adulteration is minimised.
  • Positive drug tests can provide insight into lifestyle choices of individual workers, which may have negative social affects.

‘62% of harmful drug and alcohol users are employed fulltime’

Regardless of using urine or oral fluid testing methods, drug and alcohol testing can play a key role in protecting businesses from issues with Fair Work Australia, IR, unfair dismissal claims and the physical and financial burden of accidents and injury. However, no matter which testing method is used, the key to successful implementation for any business is:

  • A robust Drug and Alcohol Management System which focuses on education, training and support to prevent misuse in the workplace
  • A system which is developed in consultation with the workforce and complies with industry specific and other relevant WHS legislation
  • Should be applied, reinforced and implemented consistently
  • Sets a clear guide, including policies and procedures, with regards to codes of behaviour
  • Testing should be conducted by certified collectors in strict accordance with relevant standards

To find out more about drug and alcohol testing, or to determine if your business is at risk of drugs and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
How employers can avoid 5 big mistakes when drug or alcohol testing
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in drug and alcohol testing policies

Managing the return to work process: a guide for employers and workers

Despite the physical and financial risk of workplace injuries, when managed correctly, employee injuries can be a positive experience for all involved. But the first step is to recognise that both employers and employees play a role in the return to work process, and when cooperating together, return to work outcomes can be achieved quickly and efficiently.

The next step in the process is to understand the health benefits of work; a concept which should be acknowledged and accepted by both parties in order to achieve the best outcomes. Here’s a quick recap…

The final and perhaps most important step, is to understand employer and employee obligations in the return to work process. And beyond that, what else should and can be done by each for the most effective injury management, reducing physical and financial risk.

Employer obligations
Beyond the legislation which outlines what is legally required from employers, there is more that employers can do to get injured workers back to work sooner. Here’s a summary:

  • Report the injury to your insurer as soon as possible – legally you have 48 hours to make a claim however the sooner you report the incident, the more likely you are to have the injured worker back to work sooner.
  • Offer support – while your to-do list just grew significantly now that you have an injured worker, it’s important to remember that they will also have a growing list of concerns. Positive encouragement and understanding of the situation throughout the process will help your worker to feel as though they are supported. Ask them what they need, and put the answers into action.
  • Regular communication – ensuring regular communication while the worker is off work, and again when they return, is critical to gain a positive response and willingness from the employer to get back to work as soon as possible. As with support, communication reaffirms to the employee that they are valued and appreciated.
  • Provide suitable work – the purpose of alternate duties is so that the employee can recover at work, not only saving money on lost time and efficiencies, but also ensuring that the worker is improving their functional capacity through movement, and maintaining positive mental health. For the best possible outcome, suitable duties should be determined collaboratively (where reasonably possible) so that the injured worker is reassured that they are still a respected employee whose wellbeing is valued.
  • Involve the worker in the Return to Work Plan – as with suitable work duties, it’s important to involve the injured worker in the development of their Return to Work Plan. The worker should have a say in the goal of the plan, which should focus on current capabilities rather than restrictions, as well as breaks and work hours based on these capabilities.
  • Prepare colleagues for the workers return ­– anxiety and nerves are common in employees who have been off work for some time. It’s important that they feel supported by colleagues as well as management upon their return, especially if they are not returning to their pre-injury capacity. Ensure other staff are aware the worker is returning, as well as any changes to their role, and that they offer support and encouragement where possible.

Employee obligations
While legally speaking, the majority of obligations fall upon the employer, employees have a responsibility to take care of themselves, ensuring their injury does not get worse or return. Here’s a summary of employee obligations:

  • Report the injury to a Supervisor as soon as it happens and answer any questions honestly.
  • Actively participate in the development and management of the Return to Work Plan – and make every effort to follow the plan, advising of any difficulties or changes throughout the process.
  • Communicate – openly and honestly to all parties throughout the process, including your employer, Return to Work Coordinator, doctors and others. Open communication is key to returning to work sooner.
  • Comply with all advice and use correct work methods – this means if the injury is physical, follow correct ergonomic procedures and correct work methods, to ensure your injury is not aggravated further. If the injury is psychological, ensure you voice any concerns, stressors or problems with your Supervisor as soon as they occur, so that solutions can be put in place and further injury avoided.
  • Always follow the advice of treating practitioners and doctors

Managing the return to work process can seem like a daunting process, however it’s encouraging to note that while many injured workers take some time off work, in 2018 the return to work rate was above 80%.

For the best chance at maintaining good return to work outcomes, speak to Work Options about how we can help to protect your business.

Related reading:
Why work is the best treatment for injury recovery
Case study: when altering your reactions can affect RTW outcomes
Common injury management mistakes guaranteed to rise insurance premiums

 

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:

 

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

 

How Employers can Avoid 5 Big Mistakes when Drug and Alcohol Testing

We’ve previously covered the biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol testing policies, but even when your Drug and Alcohol Management Procedure is air tight, mistakes can still be made during the execution process, which can land employers in hot water. And no business should be exposed to those risks when they’ve already taken the time and effort to have a well-written and risk-reducing policy.

Not sure if your Drug and Alcohol Policy stacks up? Take our 5 minute survey to find out.

Here are our tips for avoiding some big mistakes when testing for drugs and alcohol:

Ensure your procedure covers drug testing when a worker is showing possible signs of drug and alcohol use
Your drug and alcohol management procedure should clearly outline the process for conducting testing when you have a suspicion that someone may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Doing so significantly increases your protection from accidents, incidents and substantial costs to your business.

Ensure random testing is ‘truly random’
Remember that the aim of testing is not to ‘catch out’ employees, but to provide a safe and risk-adverse work environment. Often much of the resistance to testing is when employees believe they are being targeted due to regular but ‘supposedly random’ testing. This could expose you to unfair or adverse action.  The only way to ensure that testing is truly random is to use a random generator, where employees have the same probability of being picked for testing. This also means that for repeated rounds of testing, if employees have already been picked for previous rounds, they have the same probability of being picked for the next round, just as everyone else does.

Make sure your testing schedule is not predictable
It’s pretty simple; if employees can predict when testing will occur, they can avoid detection. Ensure your testing schedule is not the same day or time, that frequency varies, the time between notification and testing is kept as short as possible, and that minimum people know in advance.

Wait for laboratory confirmation before implementing disciplinary action
An initial onsite drug screen result is not deemed positive until it is confirmed by a NATA accredited laboratory. A good drug and alcohol procedure should clearly document the process to be followed between the onsite test result and the confirmatory lab result. A worker should not be terminated during this time.

Keep appropriate documentation
Unfair dismissal claims and employee complaints are common when drug and alcohol testing is done poorly. Employers should maintain clear documentation across the entire testing process including employee selection, notification, comments or concerns. This ensures that the business is protected from claims, and proves that the process was completed fairly and in accordance with the Drug and Alcohol Management Procedure. Similarly, all employees must be informed of any changes to the procedure, trained and educated on the changes. Employers should have a documented and signed acceptance from each employee with regards to the change/s.

4 billion dollars – that’s how much it costs Australian businesses annually due to drug and alcohol induced accidents, illness absenteeism and productivity. Can your business afford to be part of that?

When you’ve already spent so much time writing, educating and executing your Drug and Alcohol Management Procedure, don’t make these small mistakes which all too often result in big consequences. For the best protection, contact Work Options for a thorough and tailored Drug and Alcohol Management Plan, designed to protect your business from the risks of drugs and alcohol.

Related reading:
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
The common problem with a positive drug and alcohol test which no one talks about
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol testing policies

Reinstated after Unfair Dismissal: what you could be at risk of this silly-season

They don’t call it the ‘silly-season’ for nothing; employees get too drunk, verbally abuse their boss, kiss their colleagues uninvited, and get sacked as a result… at least that’s what happened in the case of Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey NSW Pty Ltd [2015].

Here’s a summary… Mr Keenan attended his work Christmas function which was being held at a hotel, and had been organised and paid for by his employer. Mr Keenan drank approximately 13 drinks at the self-service bar and became intoxicated. During this time Mr Keenan told a company director and a senior manager to “f**k off”, asked a female colleague for her phone number and said to another, “who the f**k are you, what do you even do here?”

After the official work function concluded, Mr Keenan and other colleagues proceeded to the upstairs public bar and continued drinking. Whilst there, Mr Keenan described one female colleague as a “b***h”, and kissed another without invitation stating, “I am going to dream about you”.

Mr Keenan was dismissed as a result, to which he lodged an unfair dismissal claim and sought reinstatement. In reaching a decision, the Fair Work Commission determined that, although Mr Keenan’s language and behaviour toward his superiors was offensive, it was not sufficiently serious enough to justify dismissal.

As for Mr Keenan’s conduct in unwelcomely kissing another employee, although it would constitute sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Commission considered that the incident was not connected to his employment, taking place ‘out of hours’, and therefore did not warrant his termination.

In reaching its decision, the Commission laid part blame of Mr Keenan’s intoxication on the employer stating, “it is contradictory and self-defeating for an employer to require compliance with its usual standards of behaviour at a function but at the same time to allow the unlimited service of free alcohol. If alcohol is supplied in such a manner it becomes entirely predictable that some individuals will consume an excessive amount and behave inappropriately.” The Commission also criticised the employer for not placing anyone in a managerial position in charge of conduct, ensuring responsible service of alcohol was being carried out.

This case sheds a light on implications for employers around social functions and the risks involved, as well as what can happen when terminating an employee for poor behaviour. It’s important to know your rights, and those of your employees, get the facts, review your Policies and Procedures, and seek help from experts before making any decisions.

Related reading:
The biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol policies
Reducing the Risk at Christmas: Considerations when planning the work Christmas party

Not always a Merry Christmas: Christmas and Mental Health

Christmas is usually a happy time of year. But it’s also a busy time of year and can be especially stressful and challenging for people who suffer with poor mental health. Family tension, loneliness, breaks to routine, financial stress and pressure to attend functions and events, can often make matters worse. So whether Christmas is a wind-down time for your business, or if you’re heading into a busy trading period, it’s important to make employee mental health a priority.

If you’re anything like me, with Christmas just ahead, not only am I excited to take a break and enjoy some festive cheer but, from a work perspective, I’m also thinking… ‘How am I going to get everything done’? It’s no doubt that your employees are feeling this way too. Here are our best tips in bringing in the New Year whilst maintaining a positive wellbeing work culture.

Thank employees – thanking employees makes it clear to them that they are important and can help to improve productivity and morale. Thank them with a Christmas party, awards, gift or something to ensure their efforts are celebrated.

Prioritise – ask employees to identify what is absolutely necessary to have completed before the Christmas break, and let them know that it’s okay to put smaller, less important tasks on the to-do list for January.

Time off – no doubt the leave requests have already been approved but for those employees who will continue to work throughout the Christmas holidays, be flexible with working arrangements or try to give staff some unexpected time off to be with family and friends. And in the lead up to Christmas, take note of those working extra hours and ensure they take entitled leave.

Have processes in place – if you’re running on skeleton staff throughout the Christmas period, ensure appropriate policies and procedures are in place so that employees can be reassured that they are managing queries correctly whilst covering for colleagues, and unnecessary stress is not created.

Mental health initiatives – remind employees of Employee Assistance Programs or other mental health and wellbeing initiatives to ensure they know there is help available and they are supported.

Manage your expectations and be realistic – Christmas is a time for everyone to switch off and relax. You’ve encouraged your employees to turn off their email notifications, leave their phone in the draw and unwind the best way they can. So let them. And you should do the same.

Although this time of year can feel as though work is piling up rather than winding down, it’s encouraging to understand that by allowing employees to rest and recuperate over the Christmas break, they will be refreshed, energetic and engaged upon their return. Don’t add to the stress of Christmas by creating unrealistic deadlines or pressures – understand the benefits and commit to a mentally healthy workplace instead, as the company’s bottom line will benefit in the long run.

Related reading:
Steps to preventing psychological injuries in the workplace
How to promote corporate wellness when it’s not your primary role
A simple guide to talking to employees about mental health

 

Reducing the Risk at Christmas: Considerations when planning the work Christmas party

Most employees have a story about a time when they’ve had too much to drink, gotten a little too confident in front of the boss or made an embarrassing choice at the work Christmas party. And most employers have a story about taking off early or turning a blind-eye to staff behaviour on these occasions, thinking ‘what I don’t know can’t hurt me’. But just because employees are officially ‘off the clock’, doesn’t necessarily mean that employers are no longer responsible for their health and safety. And unfortunately, ‘just a little bit of fun at the work Christmas party’ too often results in harassment, accidents, bullying or other claims, as well as accidents and injury. In other words… ‘what I don’t know, can hurt me’.

So if you’re planning a staff Christmas party or other function, here are a few risk-reducing considerations to take prior to the event.

Review your Policies and Procedures
There’s no better time than the silly-season to make sure your Policies and Procedures adequately protect you and your employees from risk; this includes Drug and Alcohol, Work-related Social Events, Social Media and other Policies. Policies should be clear and detailed, and include a Procedure outlining the steps to be followed to reinforce the Policy.

Not sure if your Drug and Alcohol Policy stacks up? Get a FREE review to determine if you’re at risk.

Communicate, communicate, and communicate
Issue a friendly memo to employees in advance of the event to remind them about appropriate conduct, company Policies and Procedures, alcohol use and behaviours which could result in harassment or other claims. Not only does communication reinforce values, standards and procedures, but encourages staff that you take safety seriously.

Be selective when picking a venue
Although Christmas parties should be fun, and whilst chartering a boat, paint-balling, visiting a water park or other adrenaline-charged activity sounds exciting, it’s best to pick a venue or setting with minimal risk of accident or injury. Especially if alcohol will be invited to! Perhaps bare-foot bowling or a beach picnic could be fun?

Less alcohol means less risk
Seems obvious? Alcohol contributes to 11% of workplace accidents and injury – this should be a consideration when choosing what type of event you’ll be hosting and the venue.

Consider transportation options
Employer duty of care stretches beyond the function itself – while it’s not legally mandatory to provide transportation options, getting people home safely is still important. Consider providing Cab Charge Vouchers or renting a private bus if reasonable. At the very least, pick a venue close to various transport options.

Okay, okay… can you hear the sirens wailing in the background? Think the ‘Fun Police’ are out to get you? Not the case. We know that a staff Christmas party is a great way to bring in the new year, thank staff for their contribution and form bonds and strengthen relationships which will benefit everyone in the workplace. We’re simply pointing out that there are risks involved and to remain vigilant even as your mind starts to wind down into holiday mode.

Already planned something different and exciting? Great! At the very least, here are some pointers of things you can do during the event to stay safe and reduce your risk.

Responsible Service of Alcohol – in preparation for those one or two who may take it too far, whether BYOing or in a licenced venue, ensure alcohol is being served responsibly and be prepared to take action if anyone appears inebriated or acts inappropriately.

Hydration – ensure there are plenty of non-alcohol drinks available, especially if the event is outdoors or encompasses some form of physical activity.

Provide food options – not only because people get hangry, but especially if alcohol is involved, various food choices should be available, taking any dietary requirements into consideration.

Be mindful – you’re still the boss. The best way to prevent sticky situations is to diffuse them from happening. Make sure there is a manager, who should not drink, that responsible for keeping an eye on mood and behaviour and is prepared to take action if required.

At the end of the day, or the year in this case, Christmas parties and functions are important for many employees to feel valued, supported and have some fun with their friends and colleagues. So as long as you set an example, outline acceptable behaviour as your number one priority, and have detailed Policies and Procedures in place, there’s no reason the Christmas party shouldn’t be a huge hit!

Related reading:
Reinstated after Unfair Dismissal: what you could be at risk of this silly-season
The biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol policies
Unfairly dismissed for drunkenness at work

 

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

The common problem with a positive drug and alcohol test which no one talks about

In light of October being Mental Health Awareness Month in New South Wales, we thought we’d shed some light on the often common reason as to why an employee may return a positive drug or alcohol result.

People use, and can become dependant on, drugs and alcohol for a number of reasons; enjoyment, to relax, inclusion within a group, curiosity, to minimise physical or psychological pain or as a coping or escape mechanism. And it’s important to note that 50% of people globally who are affected by substance abuse, also suffer from mental health disorders. But with the two being closely related, we are presented with a chicken and the egg type scenario; what came first?

Often when a person suffers with a mental health condition, they use substances to ease their symptoms temporarily. On the other hand, regular drug use can trigger the first symptoms of mental health illnesses, make symptoms worse or treatment less effective. Some people use substances because they believe that they will feel better in the short term, however it can actually leave them feeling worse, anxious, agitated, unmotivated or moody. And left untreated, both mental health issues and drug or alcohol addiction can get in the way of an individual’s ability to function at work, maintain relationships, handle difficult situations and sustain a functional and stable home life.

One in five Australian’s is currently experiencing a mental health condition equating to 20% of the country’s population.

So what should you do if a worker gets a positive result? As an Employer with a duty of care, the key is to ensure that you understand the driver behind the drug use, and explore it further to determine if something else may be a contributing factor. Did the worker have a big night out with their mate which is the reason for the positive result, or did they recently suffer a personal loss which they’re struggling to cope with?

It is not the role of the employer or manager to diagnose a possible substance or dependency problem, nor pass blame or immediately discipline… after all, you don’t know if a positive result has come from medication prescribed for a mental health condition, and disciplinary action may just make the situation worse for you and the worker. It is your role to identify if an employee is impaired, unable to do their job safely, and take the appropriate steps as per the organisation’s Drug and Alcohol Policy.

Among recent drinkers (2016) 1 in 6 (17.4%) put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol in the last 12 months

So how should you support a worker with a positive result when you think there may be associated mental health issues?

  1. Employ a Drug and Alcohol Management Specialist to conduct an interview, provide guidance and make recommendations. Their expertise will ensure objectivity and legal compliance, as well as provide some reassurance to the worker. They will also be able to put together a tailored Drug and Alcohol Management Plan (DAMP) which will assess the worker’s physical, psychological and psycho-social state, and determine reasonable treatment and action moving forward.
  2. Provide opportunities for open communication and respond to their concerns compassionately. Ensure the worker feels heard, respect their privacy and confidentiality and take notes so that you can then take action.
  3. Determine what temporary changes can be made to the worker’s role or workplace to accommodate their physical and psychological needs. Do they need some time off, can they work from home, how can their workload be reduced?
  4. Provide support by offering contact details for community support groups, Employee Assistance Programs, GP or health care professional, online resources or other mental health or drug and alcohol support networks.
  5. Share your story if you’ve gone through something similar and you’re confident in sharing your experience. Be careful not to compare or say things like ‘I know what you’re going through’; simply show them that they are not alone on their journey.
  6. Let them know that they have your support in their recovery. The best treatment for co-occurring disorders is to treat them simultaneously which may mean the employee has a long road ahead of them. Let them know you’ll support them in any way you can from a work perspective. Remember – your role is to support the person be successful at work, not anywhere else.

Among recent drinkers (2016) 1 in 10 (9%) had injured themselves or someone else because of their drinking in their lifetime

When all is said and done, when mental health is concerned, the best approach is to be preventative rather than reactive. By recognising the symptoms of poor mental health and taking action, you will contribute to a positive health culture, and may prevent bigger issues such as drug and alcohol misuse at work from occurring. And if it does, if you understand the reason behind the substance abuse, you can choose the best way to respond. 

Be a proactive Employer by utilising a Drug and Alcohol Management Specialist who can assist you in identifying the risks. When addressing issues with educational understanding, the worker will be protected from further risk of deterioration, you’ll protect the business from potential unfair treatment claims, and you will retain a good employee with experience in their role.

Related reading:

You suspect a worker is under the influence, what’s next

What to do when an employee fails a drug test

Steps to preventing psychological injuries in the workplace

Approximately $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation claims for work-related mental health conditions each year in Australia, comprising nearly 7,200 workers. However often the term ‘psychological injury’ is misunderstood as it is not physically ‘seen’, therefore remains untreated. The term psychological injury refers to an individual’s emotional state and behaviour, which can include conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, and can disrupt their ability to work, carry out daily activities or engage in meaningful relationships.

Signs that a worker may be experiencing poor mental health or a psychological injury are:
• Poor work performance, lack of motivation or low productivity
• Changes in physical appearance i.e. poor grooming
• Restlessness, irritability, seeming passive or other dramatic behavioural changes
• Increased absenteeism or presenteeism
• Mood swings, outbursts or more emotional than usual
• Avoidance or withdrawing from conversation, activities or interactions with others

It’s important to understand that workplace psychological injuries are common and need to be managed appropriately to avoid severe outcomes for the employer and employee. Psychological injuries at work can occur from stress, workload demands and pressure to perform, but are also regularly attributed to workplace bullying and harassment.

Mental Health Claims in Australia associated with bullying and harrasment

So how can psychological injuries be prevented? The great news is that there are many easy to implement and low-cost short term prevention measures available, which have been proven to effectively manage risk factors:

• Promote work-life balance and enforce it
• Encourage team building activities where workers can engage in socialisation, stepping away from work
• Promote a strong safety culture where WHS is respected, acknowledged and adhered to
• Provide open communication channels where workers can provide feedback or voice concerns privately and without judgement
• Promote wellness programs such as physical activity incentives
• Ensure all WHS policies and procedures are clear, defined and enforced, covering
o Bullying and harassment
o Change and performance management
o Grievance and conflict resolution

So what happens when a worker has already sustained a psychological injury? How can it be managed? Once a psychological injury has occurred, there is considerable research proving that early workplace intervention is the best way to significantly prevent the further development of serious problems and improve return to work outcomes.

1. Firstly, the worker should feel supported and listened to – open communication is key! If a worker voices concerns of a psychological injury, they should be heard to ensure that their frustrations are not displaced.

2. Take all reasonable steps to determine the cause of the injury. If the injury is a result of bullying or harassment, action should be taken immediately concerning all parties involved, and inappropriate behaviour ceased. Alternatively, if the injury is the result of workload or stress, re-prioritise, delegate or consider temporary alternate duties.

3. Ensure workers have confidential access to employer supported Employee Assistance Programs to improve resilience and determine coping strategies.

4. Consult a workforce safety provider who can provide training to supervisors and managers on how best to manage mental illness in the workplace, and assist those people to continue to work.

5. Provide contact details for medical support services where the worker can seek further assistance at their discretion.
o Lifeline – 13 11 14
o beyondblue – 1300 22 4636
o SANE Australia – 1800 187 263
o R U OK?
o Black Dog Institute

6. Don’t judge, blame or make negative comments with regard to a workers psychological injury, as it can demonstrate lack of understanding and sympathy.

7. Maintain contact and regularly check in.

When at work, no one wants to feel unsupported, isolated or sad, and no employer wants to have to worry about filling an unnecessarily vacant job position or navigating the workers’ compensation process. So despite having a duty of care, by taking steps to provide a mentally healthy workplace, employers are protected from psychological harm, but employers can also ensure that their businesses are as productive as possible.

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.

 

 

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.