A Return to Work (RTW) program is the framework that supports an individual to return to work after a work-related injury. Each state has different legislation and regulations to guide employers, workers and other stakeholders through this process.
In Western Australia, the government agency that is responsible for administering the state’s workers’ compensation scheme and regulating return to work practices is WorkCover WA. The legislation that applies to these areas is the Workers’ Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981.
Workers’ compensation insurance is mandatory for all employers in Western Australia for anyone who is defined as a worker under the Act. Find out more here.
When an employee is injured at work, they may be able to make a claim for workers’ compensation. As they recover, it’s best practice for them to return to work as soon as they reasonably and safely can. The benefits of an early return to work are significant, for both employees and employers.
WorkCover WA has a number of steps that workers and employers must follow to facilitate this return to work.
When an injury occurs
When a worker is injured, there are certain things they must do in order to initiate the workers’ compensation process. The first thing they must do is see a doctor and ask for a First Certificate of Capacity from them.
The First Certificate of Capacity is much like a medical certificate. On this document, the worker’s doctor should indicate whether they have a total or partial capacity to return to work. If the doctor’s assessment suggests that the worker has a total capacity for work, it’s likely that they will return to the position they held at the time of the injury. If the assessment suggests a worker has only a partial capacity to return to work, a Return to Work program will need to be implemented.
The First Certificate of Capacity also contains a ‘consent authority’ that, when signed by the worker, allows the treating doctor to discuss the workers’ compensation claim and medical condition with the employee and insurer.
Injury Management System
In Western Australia, all employers must establish an Injury Management System, a written document that lays out the procedure to be followed when an injury occurs. WorkCover WA has a template available for this system.
As part of this system, all employers must nominate an employee who is responsible for the injury management system. This person is the Injury Management Coordinator. If it’s a small business, the owner may fill this role themselves, and larger businesses may need more than one person to take on these responsibilities. Whoever the person is, it’s important that they have access to the training, resources and any other assistance they need for their role.
More information about what should be included in an injury management system can be found here. An Injury Management System should always include a Return to Work program.
Return to Work Program
A Return to Work Program (or RTW Program) should be developed for an injured worker as soon as a Certificate of Capacity has been received or a medical practitioner advises that one is needed. WorkCover WA has a template for this also.
A Return to Work Program must include the following information:
- The name of the employer’s business and the name of the injured worker
- A description of the goal of the RTW Program
- A list of the actions that should be taken to enable the worker to return, with information about who is responsible for taking each action
- A statement that indicates whether the worker agrees to the program.
Ideally, the RTW Program should also include:
- The names and contact information for the treating doctor, insurer, and Injury Management Coordinator/employer
- The details of any medical restrictions that the doctor has identified, and a list of duties that comply with these
- A schedule for the worker’s return to work (may include reduced hours)
- Space for all parties to sign to indicate agreement
- A contact person (usually the Injury Management Coordinator) for the worker if they have questions
- A date for the RTW Program to be reviewed.
More information about what content is necessary to include in RTW Programs can be found here. All RTW Programs must meet the requirements of the Workers’ Compensation Code of Practice (Injury Management) 2005. There may be other information that an employer or employee wishes to include, also.
Workers must be given the opportunity to participate in the development of their RTW Program and should receive a copy when it is complete, along with the treating doctor. Any changes should be advised in writing.
It’s also a good idea for the doctor to be involved in the development of the plan, and for copies to be issued to the worker’s line manager and the employer’s insurer. As necessary, co-workers should also be informed about the content of the RTW Program.
If the worker needs time off before returning, it’s important to keep them connected to their workplace, by communicating with them regularly and involving them in meetings and functions, as well as keeping them in the loop with news, updates and developments.
Failure to have an established Injury Management System or Return to Work Program in place can attract a $2000 fine (each).
Employers are legally obliged to provide injured workers with their pre-injury job if it is reasonably practicable. If this is not possible, employers must provide another job that is comparable in status and pay. This requirement applies for a period of 12 months from the day on which the worker becomes entitled to receive weekly compensation payments.
It may be necessary for employers to identify alternative, modified or restricted duties that a worker is capable of completing following their injury. These are referred to as suitable duties.
Returning to work with suitable duties helps ensure a worker retains their skills and knowledge and stops them from becoming isolated or alienated from their workplace. These duties can be identified collaboratively between the employer and worker with the help of the treating doctor and the worker’s supervisor or immediate manager.
Some guidance on how to determine suitable duties can be found here.
Whatever the suitable duties are determined to be, it’s vital that they comply with the capacity and restrictions identified in the most recent Certificate of Capacity from the treating doctor.
If workers and employers are unable to agree on a RTW Program, insurers should be contacted, and a case conference with all parties (including the doctor) should be considered.
If a worker will not participate in the RTW Program, an application can be made to Conciliation and Arbitration Services, requesting intervention.
If communication between parties involved in a RTW Program breaks down, WorkCover WA’s Advice and Assistance Unit may also be able to offer guidance to resolve the issue.
More information on dispute resolution can be found here.
Executing the RTW Program
The worker’s progress should be monitored and the RTW Program updated as required. Informal and formal reviews may be conducted, as well as other communications.
As a worker recovers, their capacities may change, and the program should be amended to reflect these changes. They may also be able to increase their hours or work for longer durations without requiring rest breaks. It’s not necessary to gain approval from the treating doctor for all changes to the RTW Program, but all changes should be documented and updated copies of the program distributed to stakeholders.
More information about executing the RTW Program can be found here.
Obligations of parties involved in the RTW Program
Each party involved in the Return to Work Program can reasonably expect certain things of the other parties.
The injured worker
With regard to the worker, it is reasonable for others to expect that they take an active role in planning and executing the RTW Program. It is also reasonable to expect that they complete paperwork in a timely manner, adhere to appointment times, communicate openly and honestly with all parties, carry out the actions as stipulated for them in their RTW Program and work cooperatively with all stakeholders, including a workplace rehabilitation service if one is involved. It’s also the responsibility of the worker to advise other parties about any changes to their contact information or treatment providers.
The treating medical practitioner
The treating medical practitioner’s responsibilities are mainly concerned with the treatment itself and the issuing of Certificates of Capacity or Progress Certificates of Capacity. The latter are issues at each review if the worker is not fully recovered from their injury. When they are fully recovered, the doctor will issue a Final Certificate of Capacity. It is reasonable to expect the treating doctor to provide advice regarding the diagnosis and prognosis of the injured worker as well as on their restrictions/capacities. The doctor may also attend the workplace for a site visit.
The injured worker has a right to choose their treating doctor.
The workers’ compensation insurer
Employers can request that their workers’ compensation insurer take responsibility for establishing and implementing the RTW Program on their behalf. The insurer is required to help the employer establish an injury management system in their workplace (with a RTW Program) if asked to. If the insurer is tasked with implementing the RTW Program, they will have decision-making capabilities. Employers should still remain involved in RTW planning.
Workplace Rehabilitation Providers
Workplace Rehabilitation Providers (WRPs) are health professionals such as physiotherapists, psychologists or occupational therapists who specialise in addressing the barriers that are hindering a worker’s return to work. WRPs are often engaged when assistance is needed to determine suitable duties, ascertain the nature and severity of a worker’s injury or capacity, or surmount other obstacles in the RTW process. While an injured worker, employer or doctor could all initiate a referral to a WRP, all must be in agreement about their engagement. An insurer may also organise a referral to a WRP. The WRP will complete an initial assessment and formulate a service delivery plan to be signed by all parties, if required. WRPs can be expected to help to identify modifications to a work environment that could facilitate a worker participating, or assess their capacity in a work environment. WRPs can be expected to communicate effectively with all stakeholders and distribute relevant information about costs incurred and anticipated costs of rehabilitation services.
More information can be found here.
The employer has many responsibilities in the return to work process, as illustrated throughout this article. The employer (unless they discharge their responsibilities to their insurer) should take the lead role in the process, and in supporting the returning worker. It’s also important that the employer works to collaborate and communicate effectively with all stakeholders. As mentioned earlier, the employer must give the employee an opportunity to participate in the establishment of their RTW Program, and is in agreement about the contents of it.
More information can be found here.
It’s a requirement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1984 that Western Australian employers whose employees suffer certain injuries or accidents must notify WorkSafe WA. These are sometimes referred to as reportable accidents. Find out more here.
There are no specific Return to Work or Injury Management display/noticeboard requirements for businesses in Western Australia.
Information in this article is correct at the time of publication. While comprehensive, this is not an exhaustive guide to the RTW requirements in Western Australia, and WorkCover WA is the best source of information for this.
Recovery Partners provides personalised service to customers in all areas of workplace safety and occupational rehabilitation.
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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/
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