School groundkeeper

2 June 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

How the luck of the Irish helped a school groundskeeper return to work

*Phil, a groundskeeper at a school in NSW, was moving furniture at work when he sustained an injury to his knee. Although the torn ligament and subsequent inflammation didn’t require surgery, Phil did need physiotherapy and pain management to deal with it, and this necessitated some time off work. Like many of us, Phil’s work was an important part of his life. With 25 years of service, a strong social network at the school and ties to the wider school community, Phil was an important part of the school’s life. ‘Phil had a great reputation and was a great worker,’ says John O’Kelly, Recovery Partners Rehabilitation Consultant. ‘He loved his job. If he had things his way, he would have been back on the job full-time after a day or two.’

Coronavirus restrictions meant no worksite assessment

Although his employers understood the benefits of an early return to work, they were also concerned about Phil aggravating his injury if he came back too early, says John. ‘The school was keen for Phil to return in some capacity, but they were mindful of the fact that he was over 60 and it was a physical role.’ Ordinarily, John would conduct a worksite assessment to understand the nature of Phil’s duties and inform the RTW (Return to Work) plan, but he was unable to do this because of coronavirus restrictions. ‘So, I had to work with the school to identify alternative duties Phil could do and discuss his progress with his physio to develop a plan from that,’ John says.

The luck of the Irish 

We may have mentioned it before, but Mr. O’Kelly is tall, Irish and friendly, so he tends to make an impression on people! As a result, he’s developed a strong network of professional relationships throughout his region, one of whom happened to be Phil’s treating physiotherapist. ‘It really helped that I already had an established relationship with Phil’s physio because that meant we knew how each other operated. He’s proactive and a good communicator. He understood that I needed him to be clear about Phil’s capacity because I couldn’t be there myself and his GP couldn’t make that sort of call in a 15-minute appointment. It was his advice that Phil shouldn’t return to work full-time straight away, so we developed a more gradual schedule, instead.’

Phil returned to work on suitable duties

Phil was conscientious about his treatment, John says, and agreed to adhere to the restrictions on his medical certificate when he initially returned to work for three half-days per week. ‘The physio had identified that Phil had a maximum lifting capacity of 5kg and should essentially contain his activities to those that only used his body between the shoulders and hips. His role was quite varied, so a few things were off the cards, but it actually worked out well because someone needed to wipe down all the surfaces in the school as a hygiene measure for COVID-19. That was a suitable duty for Phil to do and an essential one for the school to have done.’

The insurer was happy with the momentum

Another key aspect of Phil’s suitable duties was the requirement that he change tasks every hour to alleviate the stress on his body, says John. ‘Changing tasks every hour is a good move for physical reasons, but it also helps the worker have a sense of ownership about navigating their restricted duties.’ Gradually, Phil increased his duties and hours until he returned to full-time work, about 2.5 months after his injury. ‘Phil progressed well, and everyone was happy,’ says John. ‘The employers were happy that Phil was returning to work in a safe way, Phil was happy to be back in a routine and the insurance broker was happy that there was momentum.’

Get in touch

All’s well that ends well! If you’d like the assistance of John O’Kelly or another Recovery Partners consultant to facilitate good RTW outcomes, get in touch.

Our services are available nationwide. For more information about our services contact us.

Our consultants love to have a chat, so go ahead and give us a call on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or email    

143 of 373

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