back pain

10 July 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

Top job! Recovery Partners’ Top Suthayakhom, a Rehab Consultant, ended a RTW stalemate and helped a retail employee make a safe return to work.

It can take creative thinking, diplomacy and dogged determination to facilitate an employee’s return to work after a long period. Top used all of the above when he ended a RTW stalemate that prevented an injured retail worker from returning to their job, successfully resolving the situation to everyone’s satisfaction.

A back injury caused by incorrect manual handling

*Harry was employed with a large retail group in a role that involved transferring stock onto the shop floor. Harry had sustained a back injury at work and been off for several months. ‘The technical term for the injury is a herniated vertebral disc,’ says Top, who’s also a trained Occupational Therapist. ‘It’s likely to have been exacerbated by using an incorrect manual handling technique.’ It led to Harry needing a microdiscectomy to be performed to shave the disc down to a more functional shape that would limit pain stimuli in his task completions.

A stalemate between stakeholders

Harry had undergone surgery, received physiotherapy and was recovering well, but his return to work was not progressing. ‘The problem was a communication breakdown between the surgeon, physio, insurers, employers and Harry and his GP,’ Top explains. ‘The surgeon and physio had agreed that Harry could safely lift up to 12kg, which would increase the scope of duties he could perform. But, his GP either didn’t agree or wasn’t informed of this, so he’d only signed Harry off for 1kg. Because of this, Harry was working in a greeter role at the store, which he didn’t find engaging.’ Harry was also limited to working 16 hours per week, rather than his usual quota of 22 hours. This meant the insurers were still covering the gap. They decided not to approve further physiotherapy for Harry at this time. Then, because Harry was not receiving treatment, his condition worsened. His GP felt unable to increase his capacity on his medical certificates.

Top steps to facilitate progress

At this point, Recovery Partners was engaged to help progress the case and end the RTW stalemate. Top began by completing a Functional Capacity Evaluation (or FCE) for Harry. ‘I reached the same conclusion as the physio and surgeon,’ Top says. ‘I felt Harry was safely able to lift 12kg. I then had to untangle the lines of communication between all the medical professionals and the insurers to understand their viewpoints and get everyone back on the same page.’

Top was able to secure an increase in Harry’s capacity, and he began doing some of his former stockist duties and the greeter role. ‘However, Harry’s GP wasn’t prepared to sign off on the 22 pre-injury hours a week,’ says Top. ‘He felt that working for four hours before a break (which is standard) would be exhausting for Harry, and Harry agreed.’ The stalemate persisted.

Top’s strategy ticks all the boxes

It was up to Top to come up with an alternative solution that could meet the needs of all parties without compromising Harry’s safety. ‘In the end, I proposed that Harry be given more frequent breaks throughout his shifts, of ten minutes every ninety minutes. This added up to the same total break time. Harry and his GP were happy with this and the insurers and employer were pleased to have the issue resolved.’ This plan was successfully implemented, and Harry continues to recover well at work. After their next assessment, Top expects that Harry will return to a regular break schedule. ‘I was glad we could find a strategy that worked well for everyone involved,’ Top says. ‘It was a good exercise in using lateral thinking to move a stagnant situation forward and I’ll definitely be employing that sort of technique again.’

Do you have a case that’s not moving forward?

If you’re an employer or insurer and you’ve got a return-to-work case that’s feeling stuck, Top and the other consultants at Recovery Partners are happy to help.  

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  

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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