Hamish* had been working at a warehouse depot for over 10 years. His commute was close to an hour each way. He didn’t love his job but he didn’t realise just how bad it really was until after he suffered a horrible injury at work and his colleagues were anything but supportive.
An accident or foul play?
Hamish worked for a major national company in a small depot staffed by only 4 people. The manager generally kept to himself in the upstairs office, while the others performed manual handling tasks and operated forklifts to carry out their duties.
Hamish had a strained relationship with his colleagues and Recovery Partners would later learn the extent of it. In November 2019, Hamish’s team leader was driving the forklift when he hit Hamish, severely injuring his back and shoulder.
In most accidents involving a forklift, it’s a sackable offence. The driver’s licence is suspended and the worker will likely be fired. Not only did Hamish’s team leader not face any disciplinary action, he continued to work in the warehouse and operate the forklift too.
Hamish required surgery and had many months off work. Kristin Sykes, Rehabilitation Consultant at Recovery Partners, was assigned his case. Kristin monitored and supported Hamish with his physical injuries. She conducted a workplace assessment and developed a Suitable Duties Plan to help Hamish return to work at the warehouse. The company’s Head Office signed off on the revised tasks and Hamish resumed working.
From bad to worse
Despite having a Suitable Duties Plan in place, Hamish’s team leader would constantly report to the manager that Hamish was not doing his job. The manager stated they knew nothing about the SDP and repeatedly reprimanded Hamish. He began to feel frustrated and helpless.
Venessa Kohl was brought on board to find a host placement for Hamish to help build up his capacity to Pre-Injury Duties. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working with Venessa, you know just how charismatic and charming she is, so it comes as no surprise she quickly built a relationship with Hamish.
“After speaking with Hamish on the phone a few times, I came to realise what a horrible, toxic work environment he was in. The manager of the warehouse had cancer and had just about given up on everything and everyone and just stayed in the upstairs office. Hamish was left with this horrible team leader and another colleague who repeatedly bullied him,” Venessa explained.
During his lunch break, he would keep to himself and work on some personal projects at a small carpentry workstation he had built in the warehouse. Venessa learned of Hamish’s interest in carpentry and renovations, he would complete home renos on his weekends. Hamish told Venessa his workstation was often broken or sabotaged and that even his lunch would go missing. He had been experiencing this treatment for years. Venessa highlighted from a safety perspective, a psychological injury is just as bad as a physical injury.
It remains unclear whether the team leader purposefully hit Hamish or not.
“I asked him why do you do this job? And he just said he had been doing it for so long,” Venessa says sadly.
That’s certainly no good reason to stay in a job.
Yet another setback
Deciding he needed to get far away from that warehouse, Venessa found a host much closer to Hamish’s house, within 10 minutes. It was another logistics depot so Hamish would have a sound understanding of what was expected. Venessa explained the process and goal to the company, who agreed to take Hamish on board. The host search was conducted over the phone and upon visiting the worksite, it was obvious it would be unsuitable.
Kristin explained to Hamish that not all host placements work out and that this is a reality many injured people face.
Knock on wood
Experiencing yet another setback seemed to flick a switch in Hamish and rather than deter him, it motivated him. He went door knocking in his local area, introducing and canvassing himself to all the local businesses. Hamish phoned Venessa to explain what he had done.
“He said every single business rejected him, except one. Elders Real Estate agency,” says Venessa.
Venessa contacted the agency and Kristin organised a site visit and together her and Hamish visited the agency. To work in a real estate agency you need a Certificate, with training taking at least 3 days. The cost of this training is usually $900 but Elders had an internal program and Hamish was able to attend the Elders University, free of charge. Kristin and Venessa learned you could face up to a $25, 000 fine without the certificate!
Due to Hamish’s interest in renovating houses, he knew a lot about property and absolutely flourished in his host placement. Hamish went on to not only achieve his full real estate licence but even sold his first home in less than 6 months of being at Elders. Considering the current economic climate and inflated property prices, combined with the fact that Hamish had never even worked in real estate, it was an outstanding achievement.
Venessa describes Hamish as a “formidable salesman!”.
Venessa and Kristin helped Hamish to realise he was experiencing severe workplace bullying and harassment. They helped him to secure a host placement close to his house and within an industry he was passionate about. Without support from Venessa and Kristin, it’s quite possible Hamish would have remained at the warehouse.
It remains unclear if Hamish’s team leader purposefully hit him with the forklift.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and organisations involved.
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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