5 January 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

To whom it may concern,

My name is Conor Duffy. I’m an Irish-Australian living in Melbourne. I am 30 years old. I studied Nursing and completed my degree before going on to post-graduate studies in Occupational Health & Safety. I love the West Coast Eagles and confess that I am also a closet rom-com tragic.

As a Nurse, I’ve had the pleasure of working in Emergency Wards, Aged Care Facilities, Paediatrics ICU,  rehabilitation and oncology wards amongst many others. I currently work in the Workplace Wellness & Safety and Occupational Rehabilitation industry and have done for five years.

I smile. I try to be the class clown. I make jokes, and I think most who know me would refer to me as a jovial and happy guy. And I am, most of the time.

But not always, sometimes I am not OK.

And that my dear industry friends, is perfectly OK.

So my Wellness, Safety and Rehabilitation colleagues, I have a bone to pick with you. Consider this my Jerry Maguire moment (I told you I was a rom-com tragic).

In our roles in the world of Safety, Wellness, Rehabilitation it is easy to become cynical. Ask anyone who has ever worked for an Occupational Rehabilitation Provider and they will wax lyrical about the number of employers who have told them:

that worker is a dodgy bludger”   “they’re having everyone on”   “they are full of it” etc.

You’ve thought it yourself, haven’t you? I know I have.

A friend who works in the industry recently joked with me “we’ve already sold our souls, we work in rehab!”

Wait, what?!

Is that what we think of ourselves as an industry? Or worse, is that what others think of our industry?

Hearing that really hurt.

At some point, did we lose focus on what we trained to be? I’m a Nurse. And I am bloody proud of that.

chose the rehab industry because of what it means to help people, to see fulfilment in people, to see people get back to their best. I didn’t sell my soul. My work enriches my soul.

That said, this industry can have its tough days. Everyone has their horror stories. I’d like to tell you one of mine:

I was completing a secondment as a RTW Coordinator for a large national employer. My secondment was coming to an end, it was Friday at 4 pm when I picked up the phone to an employee who had recently returned to work following an anxiety claim. I wanted to check in, say congratulations on their progress to date and wish them all the best.

At least, that was the plan.

Unfortunately, the worker was not ok. At that moment, they were suicidal. I’ve unfortunately dealt with situations like this many times before, but this time it was different. There was an immediacy to the worker’s intention to suicide that really shook me.

My training didn’t automatically kick in like it had done for me in the past. I was taken aback. This was someone who I thought was well and truly on the road to recovery. How did we get here?

I took a breath, gathered myself and did what I needed to do. After a thirty-minute phone call thankfully the individual took my advice and agreed to receive the appropriate medical treatment.

That night I cried. A lot. I couldn’t sleep. I felt sick in the pit my stomach.

I questioned everything I had done.

Did I say the right thing? Was I calm throughout? Did I ask about plans? Intent? What did I forget? Did I escalate it high enough? What if the individual did something tonight or tomorrow or next month? I struggled to sleep in the days & weeks following the call. I completely lost my appetite, I would become easily upset over minute issues. I’d get shitty at my girlfriend or our puppy. How could I possibly get mad at this face?

That sick feeling wouldn’t go away. I lost confidence in my work, and I wasn’t the nicest boss I could have been to my wonderful team.  My behaviour is not something I am proud of.

After a bit of self-reflection one evening, I picked up the phone and spoke to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and discussed how I was feeling. For those who don’t know, EAP is an incredible service which allows you to talk to a professional in complete confidentiality.

No one will ever know if you have called or what you have said. If your business doesn’t have it as a service,get it. It can save a life.

On my call with the EAP provider, I received some advice that I will never forget:

‘You cannot own someone’s safety forever. You can only assist in a moment, you cannot control anyone’s future.’

The person on the other end of the phone will never know this, but that advice changed my life and rescued me from what felt like a downward spiral.

Every job has their tough days. In our industry, they can be really, really tough. We might have a telephone call like the one I described above, we may have to respond to a serious safety incident, or we might just feel like the bad guy after having to deliver some bad news.

So my fellow industry professionals, here is my concern:

In a world where you look after workers, claimants or members – who looks after you?

Generally, when I ask that question, the answer I receive is ‘no one’.

That is a problem. Our problem.

An old boss of mine once said “don’t come to me with a problem without a solution”.

So here is my solution to this industry-wide problem:

Let’s help each other.

Crazy, right?

Let’s use our networks. Let’s be available to each other. Let’s lean on each other to better ourselves and our businesses. I’m listing my number and email below so that you (yes, you random person!) know that I’m always up for a chat if you feel the need.

In our world, it is so easy to focus on your workers, claimants and members and forget about yourself. Take a minute, every single day just for you. Because you are wonderful. You wouldn’t be doing what you do if you weren’t.

To all of you – the WHS personnel, HR teams, RTW Coordinators, Injury Management Advisors, Claims Advisors, Occupational Rehab Providers and anyone and everyone involved in the Wellness, Safety or Rehabilitation of people – remember why you studied what you did and why you chose this career path. I am guessing it was to help people.

You are impacting people’s lives every day. Don’t undersell that.

You’re wonderful.

But R U OK?

With thanks & regards,
Conor Duffy

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/