Work Options News


Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry

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

Correct Ergonomic Setup of a Workstation

Our Senior Injury Management Specialist Diana Hurst guides you through the correct ergonomic setup of a workstation.

Stretches Series – Part 1

Welcome to part 1 of our Stretches Series delivered by Megan Northey, Senior Injury Management Specialist – Megan shows us easy to do stretches for office workers to assist in injury and strain prevention.

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.



You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?

62% of harmful drug and alcohol users in Australia are employed fulltime. Let that sink in… Are you a manager or supervisor who has direct reports? If so, there’s a good chance that one or multiple workers may arrive for work under the influence at some point. Have you ever suspected that this was the case, what did you do?

Did you know that you can conduct a reasonable concern interview?

In high risk industries workers under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be harmful not only to themselves but to others; 25% of workplace accidents involve drugs or alcohol, which costs Australian businesses $680 million annually in days lost.

Can your business afford to be part of that?

So when is it time to conduct a reasonable concern interview?

  1. When another employee approaches you with concerns that a co-worker may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  2. Or upon observation of an individual displaying unusual or unsafe behaviour, which has aroused suspicions of drug or alcohol use

As soon as you suspect an employee to be under the influence, it’s best to err on the side of caution. It’s better to be risk adverse, safety conscious and consistent in enforcing the company’s Drug and Alcohol Management Program, which may prevent safety incidents, save dollars and possibly lives.

Once all parties are present, follow this guide when conducting a reasonable concern interview:

  • Inform the worker that their appearance, work performance or behaviour is a cause for concern that they may be misusing drugs or alcohol in the workplace which is why they have been requested for the interview – refer them to the company’s Drug and Alcohol Management Program.
  • Address the terms of confidentiality and advise them that the information collected will be treated with the strictest confidence and that subject to the law, any information collected will only be divulged to relevant persons for the purposes of managing health and safety.
  • Request the worker sign a Consent Form following the explanation of privacy and confidentiality. If they refuse, they may be in breach of the firm’s Drug and Alcohol Management Program.
  • Seek an explanation from the worker to ascertain a reason for their appearance, unsatisfactory work performance or behaviour.
  • Seek the worker’s perspective on workplace factors contributing to the initial event of concern. If any workplace factors are raised they should be referred to relevant WHS or HR representatives.
  • The content of the interview must be recorded in detail a using Drug and Alcohol Interview Record.

Once the interview is complete, if you are satisfied with the explanation given by the worker and you are of the opinion that there is less than a reasonable concern of misuse, the worker should be thanked and cleared to go back to work. If however, you suspect with reasonable concern that the worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, in accordance with the company Drug and Alcohol Management Program, drug and alcohol testing should be undertaken, and they should not return to work until cleared.

Of course, none of this can be done unless you actually have a Drug and Alcohol Management Program in place which clearly outlines how you manage the risk of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace. Read: The biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol policies

Ensure that your business is protected from drug and alcohol use in the workplace with drug and alcohol management advice and pre-employment and ongoing drug and alcohol screening.

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.


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

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


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

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


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


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

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



Understanding How Psychosocial Barriers to Pain Affect RTW Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consult an Injury Management Specialist or Return to Work Provider.


Why F4W Assessments are Critical in Recruitment

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

When stress in the workplace becomes a bigger issue

There’s no doubt that we’ve all experienced a high level of stress at some point in our working life. For some of us it may have been short term, and long-term for others. And for some of us, it may be an ongoing and constant source of struggle in our everyday lives. Studies have shown that when stress is prolonged, it can develop into psychological and/or physical injury, so at what point does stress at work become a bigger issue?

Stress is often amplified by a feeling of ‘lack of support’ in the workplace, a traumatic event, bullying or harassment, prolonged work pressures, issues at home, or any number of other tensions. In fact, mental health is responsible for around 6% and $543 million of workers’ compensation claims each year, covering approximately 7,200 Australians.

As part of Australian Workplace Health and Safety Laws, employers have a duty or care to manage risks which may cause any physical or psychological harm. So what can Employers do to ease the burden? Here are some short term steps to ensure employees feel happy and supported at work:

  • Ensure job demands are achievable – workloads can be carried out and completed in a reasonable timeframe, with limited pressure
  • Job control and ability – employees should be well trained in how to do their job safely, and provided with all necessary equipment and resources
  • Communication and support must be top priority – employees should feel comfortable in talking to management about any issues, and feel supported and listened to if a problem should arise
  • Recognition and reward – ensure employees are told when they’re doing a good job and provide opportunities for skills development and further training where possible
  • Early intervention – develop a confidential survey to ask your employees if they’re okay, what challenges they may be facing and addressing any issues in the workplace… you may realise team culture or the workplace environment is different to what you initially thought!

And if that is the case, there are other solutions to assist employees improve their mental wellbeing, productivity and sense of support. Read up on Employee Assistance Programs and Return to Work Coordination, which are proven to effectively reduce problems associated with workplace stress and injury.

Why work-life balance is so important for injury prevention and tips on how to do it

It’s pretty obvious that having a healthy work-life balance is good for mental health and stimulation, but new research shows that it’s also important for injury prevention in the workplace. In fact, studies have found that work-life balance has a significant impact on safety at work.


But in order to answer the how, first we need to look at the why… why does work-life balance matter at all when it comes to injury prevention? It’s not like leaving work on time to pick up the kids is going to stop us from slipping on a wet floor, is it?

First, let’s take a look at the cost of productivity, absenteeism and return to work outcomes, and gain a greater understanding of where Australian workers sit.

  • 21% of employees report that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months
  • $1.2 billion = the cost to employers of worker’s short absences due to injury in 2018
  • $6.5 billion = the cost to employers of worker’s long absences due to injury in 2018
  • Employees who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy take four times as many sick days than those who consider their workplace mentally healthy
  • On average 6.5 working days of productivity are lost annually per employee as a result of presenteeism
  • The longer someone is off work, the less likely they are to return to work = for 20 days off, the worker has 70% chance of returning to work. For 45 days off, the worker has 50% chance of returning to work

Now back to that question; why does work life balance matter? The answer is common sense really… when we’re juggling the pressures of work and the demands of home life (notice I said juggling, not balancing), our mind is constantly elsewhere, we’re not focused, our defences are down and we get sick. And all of this can lead to accidents or injury. For example, high job demands increase the risk of safety shortcuts; long working hours can result in lack of sleep, fatigue and reduced focused; and being time poor often means you put yourself last, which also means that you’re at risk of developing illness and chronic diseases.

All of this considered, it’s pretty obviously that supporting and maintaining work-life balance is not only good for individuals, but can save the business a whole lot of money in the long run. Which is why embedding work health and wellbeing programs into organisational policies and culture is not only best practice, its good business.

Here are a few simple steps to take creating and supporting work-life balance:

  1. Encourage and educate managers and supervisors to be supportive of work and family – write it into policies and procedures
  2. Give workers more control over their hours – don’t be counting the clock while they’re in the office, let them stay longer when it works and rush off early when they need to
  3. Provide flexible working options – working from home shows trust while being supportive of other’s schedules
  4. Practice work-life balance from the top down – be a role model by showing that work-life balance is accepted, not just tolerated
  5. Pay attention to burnout – getting emails from employees at 2am? Make sure you recognise when workers are taking on too much and act

For years Australian’s have thought of work and home as two completely separate entities. In fact, often times it isn’t until we become parents ourselves that the line between work and home can start to cross and blur.

So don’t wait until other commitments create enough stress to start a positive balance with work and home.

Studies have shown that when an organisation adopts a positive work-life balance culture, the benefits and results are worth it. Within a few months workers are more engaged, with higher energy and focus; overall worker health is improved and stress is reduced; and in the long-run workplace injuries, absenteeism and the cost of workers’ compensation claims are all significantly less. Not to mention, workers are happier within their work and personal lives, which is the most important of all.

Is burnout costing your business? Here’s what to do about it.

Picture this… you’re the GM or CEO of a booming commercial company; you’re well connected and well respected within the industry; you rise above any challenge, find superior solutions to any problem, exceed all expectations and the business thrives because of it; you’ve got a nice little holiday home, drive a European car and fly business-class. But here’s the problem… the holiday home sits empty because you work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year; you rarely see your kids before they’re in bed, only ever eat on the run and haven’t been on a date with your partner in months; you’re gaining weight at a steady pace and even the strongest pain-killers are no longer easing your migraines; you can’t take your mind off work, feel as though your constantly putting out fires, and you’re stress levels are through the roof. So is it all worth it?

While studies into burnout have been happening for years, acknowledgement and awareness have only recently become more prevalent within Australian businesses, with workers from the CEO to the receptionist and cleaner often ignoring its symptoms. But not only is burnout affecting the lives of those experiencing it, it’s also costing businesses billions of dollars each year in absenteeism, presenteeism, accidents and injury.

And this is a problem! Job burnout is associated with work stress and is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion, usually involving a sense of reduced achievement, which can be related to health conditions such as depression, illness and disease. Symptoms can include becoming cynical or critical, irritability and/or impatience, decline in productivity and concentration, fatigue, lack of satisfaction or physical illness. So whether you’re the CEO of this particular booming business, or you recognise symptoms in your employees, it’s so important that they are not ignored.

Here are some key areas to focus on:

Lack of control – do workers have control of their own schedule, projects or workload? Do workers have all the resources they need to do their job?
Role and expectations – do workers clearly understand their role and expectations, how much authority do they have and do they feel valued?
Demands – are workers able to cope with the demands and workload of their role?
Relationships and support – do workers have positive working relationships, with open communication, with co-workers and managers? Do manager’s micro-manage work? Are workers receiving encouragement and support for a job well done?
Organisational change – if change or restructure is taking place, are workers well managed and effectively communicated to?
Activity extremes – is the job monotonous or chaotic? Both can lead to burnout.
Work-life balance – does the job take up so much time and effort that a worker is missing out on time with friends or family, or doesn’t even have the energy to take part in activities outside of work?

It’s important to remain object and keep and open mind when you consider these questions… because at the end of the day, health is more important than ticking an item off your to do list.

“Presenteeism is a concept that describes people being present at work but not productive. Current research shows this to be a $33 billion loss to Australian industry.”

If you’ve realised that burnout is in fact prevalent in your workplace, take action! There are plenty of small things which can help:

Evaluate the options – what is priority 1 on you or your workers to do list? Work together to determine expectations, problems and solutions, what needs doing now, and what can wait. Be realistic.
Get help – reach out to support networks: co-workers, family and friends. Anyone who might be able to assist either in collaborating you to get the job done, or provide you with some stress-relief. An Employee Assistance Program is a great tool to provide counselling, support and useful techniques to manage stress and build resilience.
Take your mind off it – try a relaxing activity or hobby that might assist in taking your mind away from work, even for 10 minutes.
Exercise ¬– there’s a lot of research proving that exercise is a great stimulant for improving mental health. Get moving!
Rest ¬– as with exercise, sleep is vital to functioning at full capacity, not to mention allows you to think clearly and make good choices.
Practice mindfulness – there are plenty of Apps available which can take you through mindfulness techniques to calm and reduce stress.

So after a bit of re-prioritising, delegating and practicing some mindfulness, you’re still the CEO of a booming commercial company; still well connected and well respected; and you’re taking the family to the holiday home for the weekend, while you switch off your phone and enjoy some ‘me’ time. Because what you’ve just learnt is that well-managed workplaces are proactive about burnout, see issues as they arise and are prepared to put workplace health first.

The importance of critical incident debriefing in preventing psychological injuries

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Injury Management Mistakes Guaranteed to Rise Insurance Premiums

As an employer, you have a lot on your mind when a worker gets injured… I’m not going to meet the deadline; how will I get the job done now; what will this cost me; should I hire a temporary replacement?

The last thing you need to add to the stress is the cost of your insurance premiums rising because you haven’t followed the correct procedure or not acted quickly enough.

At Work Options, we see a lot of situations where an employer’s insurance premiums rise because of common injury management mistakes. Here are the top 6:

Not offering suitable duties
Offering suitable work duties is critical to the return to work process and keeping your insurance premiums down. How? Returning to work in some capacity is proven to significantly increase the chance of the worker returning to a pre-injury capacity, assisting their physical and mental recovery, in a much faster timeframe than doing nothing at all. In turn, there are less costs for medical, legal and wages.

Not acting soon enough
It’s pretty simple really… failure to report the injury will result in delays in the claim, treatment approvals and actions taken by the insurer to start the process; all costing valuable time and money, lost wages, and ultimately a slower return to work. You should notify the insurer within 48 hours of a workplace accident or injury.

Not being active in the process
We hear it from workers all the time… “My manager acts differently towards me since my injury”. Unfortunately some employers don’t take an active part in a worker’s recovery and return to work until they notice a jump in their premiums. Not only does this often lead to conflict between the two parties, but workers will feel undervalued and employers forfeit any control they have over the direction of the claim, ultimately resulting in rising premiums.

Not having a rehab provider involved in the early stages

It seems pretty obvious that complex injuries require specialist advice, support and treatment… and without it, the return to work process will take longer. Simple to do – just ask your insurer to refer. Did you know that the cost of a rehab provider does NOT go onto your claim cost?

Not making WHS a priority

Prevention is ALWAYS better than a cure! Again, it seems like a simple task but unfortunately many Australian businesses don’t implement WHS initiatives because they either lack the know-how or resources. Education, appropriate PPE and tailored WHS policies and procedures are the best way to reduce the amount of injuries which occur in your workplace, keeping insurance premiums down and reducing costs in the long run. Ever wondered why workers are repeating injuries in the workplace, or how they are aggravating existing injuries? This is all avoidable when you make WHS a priority!

Termination of injured workers
Here is the biggest mistake you can make! Firstly it is illegal to terminate an injured worker within six months of a work-related injury, due to their injury; secondly by terminating an employee within three years of a claim, your premiums are likely to escalate..

It’s easy to be frustrated when an employee is injured at work, but it’s important to act quickly, offer support and provide suitable work duties, to get the worker back to work, with minimal disruption to the business. And you should know… if suitable work duties are not provided, your insurer is required to calculate an estimate for wages to be added onto the claim, and history tells us this can be somewhere between one and up to eight years of wages!

The best option? Protect your business by engaging an experienced Return to Work Provider to help you navigate through the minefield of regulations and technical information and avoid costly mistakes.

Workplace Health and Safety Policies: employer versus employee responsibilities

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

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

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

Employer’s responsibilities:

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

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

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

Unfairly Dismissed for Drunkeness at Work?

Have you heard about the Cannon versus Poultry Harvesting case?

Here’s a bit of background. Ms Cannon was employed by Poultry Harvesting and described her work as moving a large piece of machinery with an attached conveyor belt for the purpose of loading chickens onto trays. Once the chickens were loaded onto the trays, they would be put into trucks for delivery.

So what led to Ms Cannon being terminated and the ultimate unfair dismissal case?

It was night shift on Melbourne Cup Day and consuming “three or four glasses of wine” earlier in the day, Ms Cannon fell asleep on the job. With the job itself requiring two people to manage, and Ms Cannon sleeping, 50-60 chickens were consequently killed.

The boss was called in and found Ms Cannon passed out and smelling of alcohol. So what would you do? In this case the employer terminated her immediately, arguing her conduct created a serious health and safety risk. He also argued that there was a well-known company policy, which had a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

Unfortunately for the employer, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) disagreed and found the worker was dismissed unfairly and awarded the employee 6 weeks wages as compensation (nearly $7,000). This did not include the employer’s costs and stress of running the case.

Are you shaking your head yet? Are you asking, ‘how can someone turn up to work drunk, causing big financial burdens, and walk away with compensation’? The issue in this case is less about what the employee did, rather what he did NOT do.

Here’s where the employer went wrong…

The employer’s policy documents were too general and unclear

Commissioner Wilson found no substantive evidence that workers were bound to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy. He said the employer’s documents contained ‘general knowledge’ about drug and alcohol restrictions but did not make it clear what was expected, and when.

“While the evidence supports a finding on the balance of probabilities that [the worker] was aware that consumption of alcohol at work was not permitted, or that presenting for work in an intoxicated state would not be permitted, I am not able to find that [she] had been warned or was aware that consuming alcohol to any level prior to presenting for work was not permissible”, Commissioner Wilson.

The employer failed to investigate or verify the worker had consumed alcohol

Commissioner Wilson also found the employer did not have sufficient knowledge about the worker’s condition to find she was intoxicated, and took no informed or objective assessment of her condition before sacking her. In addition, the worker had not been provided with an opportunity to respond to the allegations, or to have a support person present.

Lack of training

It was unclear whether the worker was aware of or given access to the Policy and training on it.

Inconsistent application of policy and procedure

The Commission found that the policy was aimed at correcting problematic behaviour (e.g. testing, counselling), however, this was not offered to the worker. Further, the employer contradicted its own decision by allowing Ms Cannon to continue to work her shift, despite finding her unfit for work.

Key learnings for employers from this case:

  • This area of the law does not always pass the ‘logic test’ – it’s very complicated
  • A general policy must have a procedure behind it that clearly lays out what must happen and when, it is a real risk to your business otherwise
  • Doing an internal assessment of whether someone is affected is fraught with danger – get an independent expert to ‘properly’ assess intoxication (alcohol testing)
  • Train your people on your policy and document it!

Read the full case.

The biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol testing policies

The statistics on drugs and alcohol use in Australian workplaces are alarming – a staggering 25% of work accidents involve drugs or alcohol! It’s an important issue that needs to be managed, not only for the immediate health and safety of employees, but also to protect employers.

Take the Cannon versus Poultry Harvesting case study for example; an employee, who showed up drunk to her job at a chicken farm, fell asleep and approximately 50 chickens were killed as a result. Noticing her breath smelled of alcohol, she was reminded of the organisation’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy and terminated immediately. The worker claimed ‘Unfair Dismissal’, to which the Fair Work Commission agreed, and was awarded nearly $7,000 in compensation.

How does that make you feel? Shocked?  Unfortunately, the reality is that the employer’s Drug and Alcohol Policy didn’t measure up to standards and was not consistently applied.

So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen to us? How can we protect our employees and ourselves in these situations?

The reality is that many employers want to keep people safe at work, prevent dangerous and costly workplace accidents and maintain a good brand reputation. But, despite these intentions, many will fail because their policies and procedures aren’t thorough, or their execution isn’t adequate.  Or even worse, their employees aren’t educated or aware of the policy.

So what are the most common pitfalls in drug and alcohol policies and procedures?

1. The half-baked approach

This is where a simple 1 – 2 paragraph policy exists, simply stating the attitude of the business towards the issue. Typically it states how the organisation ‘will not tolerate drugs or alcohol in the workplace’ or ‘has a zero tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol use’. That’s all there is, and it’s certainly not enough. The policy needs a detailed procedure to back it up, and a series of steps to be followed to reinforce the policy.

2. Unclear procedures

Ensure the procedure is thorough by detailing the who, what, where, when and how of the organisation’s drug and alcohol management program. It should state who is tested (e.g. employees, contractors), what drugs are being tested for (e.g. which drug classes), where (e.g. on-site, off-site), when (e.g. random, post-incident, for-cause) and how (e.g. urine vs saliva) and by whom. It should also detail what support is available to workers and disciplinary procedures.

3. The ‘catch and sack’ approach

This is where procedures are considered harsh, unjust or unfair such as immediate termination following one breach of the policy. The risk here is employers open themselves up to unfair dismissal claims. When considering unfair dismissal claims the FWC will look at the employer’s policy and procedures, whether it was followed and applied correctly, what process they went through to make their decision, any training and support offered to the worker and whether the decision was fair, just or harsh (amongst other things).

4. Inconsistency in the application of the procedure

Inconsistency in the procedure application and fairness are common problems in enforcing policies and procedures. Often an employer may miss a step, intentionally or otherwise, or manipulate the procedure to get the desired outcome; for example, deliberately targeting a person in a random test… which of course, is not random! Other times they may terminate a worker without following the procedural steps… again, not the correct procedure!

5. Lack of training

This one is really simple, but so often not done. Employers need to ensure that all workers are trained on the drug and alcohol policy and procedures – at induction and ongoing, and sign training attendance sheets. Employees should be educated on the dangers of alcohol and drugs in the workplace in all standard training, and made well aware of the organisation’s policies and procedures. Best practice is to include a competency test to show that the employee understood what they were taught.


It is understandable, despite their best intentions, how an organisation can fail to implement positive drug and alcohol policies. But it is a critical one to get right! Not only will having a clear, detailed, fair and enforceable procedure be more successful in eliminating drugs and alcohol in the workplace, but it will save your bottom line in the long run!

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

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

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


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


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


So how does a good Fitness for Work Assessment differ?


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


Find out more about Fitness for Work services available.

Why leadership and culture is imperative to safety

Do a couple of Google searches around risk taking in the Australian workforce and it’s easy to see that not everyone has a positive attitude towards safety and injury management. Many employees, particularly in larger businesses, tend to adopt a rule breaking approach if it’s likely to get a job done faster. So how can we as Leaders alter employee perception and, when it’s not always a simple task, should we?


Absolutely we should!

The latest figures show that work-related injury and disease cost the Australian economy $61.8 billion, with 77% of that worn by employers. So really, we’re mad if we don’t!


As Leaders it is up to us to provide the foundation for a strong culture of safety for our employees. We should enforce a top-down approach, adopting a proactive leadership style and promote a positive attitude towards safety in the workplace.


So how do we achieve this? Here are 8 simple steps to get you started that will make an immediate difference to your safety culture:


  • Commit to being risk adverse – write it into your company values if you need to but ensure that you are committing fully if you really want to be a positive safety leader
  • Walk the talk – lead by example, show your employees how to be safe, raise topics for discussion, reward safety initiatives and ideas and never break the rules!
  • Keep informed and educated on safety – talk to people, read, hire an expert… do whatever you can to ensure you are well informed around safety relating to your specific industry
  • Ensure you have a policy in place – most businesses already do, but do some benchmarking to ensure it’s up to standard
  • Communicate the policy from the top down – make sure your employees understand that their safety at work is paramount and the policy is  enforced
  • Listen to your employees – ensure they are given regular opportunities to voice their concerns and can do so in an environment and with someone they are comfortable with
  • Act on issues – what’s the point in being risk adverse if you’re not going to act on the issues, right?
  • Update employees – when an employee has had the confidence to voice a concern, ensure that you keep them updated regularly on any outcomes

So at this point, you’re either ready to start making some positive changes, or you’re waiting for the punch line. Well, here it is… remember that figure? $61.8 billion!


You can’t afford not to make some changes. Throw the rule-breaking approach out the window and refuse to contribute to the statistics! You might just be surprised too because there’s no doubt you’ll also profit from the additional benefits of a strong safety culture: happier employees, higher productivity, positive business relationships, less absenteeism and reduced claims costs.

Work Options team attended the People’s Awards 2018 for the Civil Contractors Federation (NSW)

On Friday night the Work Options team attended the People’s Awards for the Civil Contractors Federation (NSW) at Doltone House, Pyrmont.
As silver sponsors and long time providers of workplace drug testing, pre-employment fitness for work, workplace rehabilitation and employee counselling for the industry, we were delighted to see several of our customers both nominated and winning some amazing awards.
BIG congratulations to our customers for the following wins:

  • Haslin Constructions (Chris Hammond) – Project Manager <$2m
  • Abergeldie (Isabel Nobre) – Project Manager >$2m
  • Abergeldie (Carlos Lopez) – Site Supervisor of the Year
  • AWJ Civil (Martin O’Connell) – President’s Award
A highlight of the night was meeting the Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Michael McCormack MP, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, and his lovely wife Catherine.
Managing Director, Karen Castledine (left); Snr Injury Management Specialist, Diana Hurst & Regional Manager, Ben Humphreys
The team with Gladys Wood, General Manager, Haslin
Work Options have moved

Our new offices will allow us to better service our customers with much more room for the injury management, return to work and employment drug testing teams to work their wonders! The team are feeling very inspired with their new workstations, kitchen and breakout room, great natural light and views over North Sydney.

From our new digs we will continue to provide on-site & off-site drug testing for work, pre-employment fitness testing, EAP and workplace rehabilitation under icare workers insurance scheme, comcare and the motor accidents scheme.

Work Options team at Civil Contractors Federation (NSW) Earth Awards

On Friday night, 8th June, the Work Options team attended the Civil Contractors Federation (NSW) Earth Awards at the Hyatt Regency, Darling Harbour.

Representing Work Options was:

  • Karen Castledine, Managing Director;
  • Diana Hurst, Snr Injury Management Specialist;
  • Kaitlan Irvine, Workplace Drug & Alcohol Testing Coordinator;
  • Dane Sullivan, Snr Rehabilitation Counsellor;
  • Chris Kroukamp, Occupational Therapist;
  • Matthew Mooney, Regional Manager Northern NSW.

A fun night was had by all with plenty of laughter, dancing and great company!

Congratulations to the category winners:

  • Category 1 (project value up to $2m): Piling & Civil Australia for Foundation Replacement, Burrinjuck Towers 125 and 126.
  • Category 2 (project value $2m to $5m): Antoun Civil Engineering & Sutherland Shire Council for Design and Construction of Woolooware Bay Shared Pathway – Stage 6 Taren Point
  • Category 3 (project value $5m to $10m): Diona for Design and Construction of Water and Sewer Infrastructure – Canterbury Town Centre
  • Category 4 (project value $10m to $30m): Rob Carr for Green Square Stormwater Drain Project
  • Category 5 (project value $30m to $75m): Seymour Whyte Constructions for Wyong Road and Pacific Highway Upgrade at Tuggerah

As silver sponsors and long time providers of workplace drug testing, pre-employment fitness for work, workplace rehabilitation and employee counselling for the industry, we were delighted to see several of our customers both nominated and winning some amazing awards for some amazing projects.

the winner – Darrell Wilson

Work Options was proud to be sponsor of the inaugural Safety Award for the NSW Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association awards last Friday night. We were incredibly impressed with the quality of finalists and, of course, the winner – Darrell Wilson. Darrell was a humble, yet very deserving winner.

See what the judges said below:

“Darrell was awarded for his response at high speed, in traffic on the M5, where he averted a potentially catastrophic accident which could have resulted in many deaths. Darrell was travelling on the M5 when a school bus carrying 20 children suddenly pulled out in front of him. His quick thinking response to stop the vehicle and turn the truck towards the concrete wall averted the collision. Darrell’s intention was to avoid the bus at all costs, even at his own well-being. Darrell’s driver professionalism & attention to detail, ensured that his response in this emergency situation was quick, appropriate & very highly skilled. In essence, Darrell put into practice what all heavy vehicle drivers should be doing and that is to be alert & attentive at all times.”

Work Options’ Consultant Wins Award for Outstanding RTW Achievement!

On Thursday, 2nd November the NSW Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association announced the winners of the inaugural ARPA NSW Excellence in Workplace Rehabilitation Awards.

We are very pleased to announce that Diana won the award for Outstanding Return to Work Achievement! This is a very well deserved win for Di. The case nominated had a number of complexities which required not only very strong occupational therapy and case management skills, but strong communication and a lot of ‘outside the box’ strategies to assist the worker achieve a full and sustainable RTW.

Diana automatically goes into the National Awards to be held Friday 17th November in Canberra.

We wish her all the best at the nationals!