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.
Returning to work after an illness or injury is an important part of a worker’s recovery. This injury may be physical or psychological. In Queensland, the government body that regulates workers’ compensation is called Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the body that facilitates the safe return to work of injured workers and provides insurance is called WorkCover Queensland.
When someone is returning to work, there are several parties involved, all of whom have a part to play in assisting the injured worker. This includes doctors and other health professionals, employers, insurers, rehabilitation providers and, of course, the worker themselves. A safe return to work is more likely to be successful when the worker takes an active part in the planning for this outcome.
Workplace rehabilitation is the process in which an individual recovers at work, performing their work as they get better. This may involve reduced hours, modified tasks, or an alternative role.
The responsibilities of each stakeholder involved in the return to work process are as follows:
The worker must actively contribute to their own return to work planning and participate in treatment and rehabilitation. They must communicate openly and honestly with WorkCover and their employers to keep all parties informed, and make reasonable efforts to return to work when possible, even if this means performing alternative duties.
The employer is responsible for reporting the incident in which the worker sustained an injury, and initiating the claim with WorkCover. Employers are also tasked with providing rehabilitation to the worker and assisting them to return to work as soon as possible, even if a claim has not been fully processed. Employers must pay an excess to WorkCover if the worker has to take time off, and must ensure that they are complying with the Standard for Rehabilitation and any other workplace rehabilitation policies and procedures. The employer should also offer support to the worker, empathising with their position and encouraging them to return to work as soon as it is safe to do so. Employers in QLD must also supervise support staff such as rehabilitation and return to work coordinators, find alternative duties for the worker if necessary, and implement supports for them. The employer must communicate regularly with WorkCover and the employee about their progress, and review their tasks as needed.
A worker’s supervisor may also be involved, and they are tasked with more direct and proactive interaction with the worker, guiding their transition back into work, monitoring and reporting on their progress and rehabilitation, as well as offering support.
The Guidelines for Standard for Rehabilitation is a document that has been developed specifically to help employers understand their obligations when an individual is returning to work after an injury. More information can be found here.
Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinator
This role may be performed by an employee, if the workplace is not required to have a dedicated Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinator (see below).
The Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinator is responsible for coordinating the worker’s return to work, liaising with the worker to ascertain the extent of their injuries, consulting with the worker about suitable duties and ensuring their work remains within these parameters, and liaising and communicating with other stakeholders including the employer/insurer and WorkCover.
Insurer: WorkCover QLD or self-insured employer
If a business is self-insured, they take on the responsibilities otherwise fulfilled by WorkCover. These responsibilities include assessing claims and deciding on compensation, financial entitlements and ongoing benefits, as well as coordinating the rehabilitation and return to work plan for the injured worker. This may be an advisory role.
Health providers are tasked with assisting in the ongoing clinical care of the worker, assessing and treating their injuries. They are responsible for completing a Work Capacity Certificate and providing medical advice to the worker, their employer and the insurer.
Injury Management Coordinator
The Injury Management Coordinator may be engaged by the employer or by WorkCover QLD to provide assistance with injury management, including developing rehabilitation, injury management and return to work plans, providing workplace assessments and liaising with the medical practitioners involved.
Do all employers need to appoint a Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinator?
An employer in Queensland may need to appoint a Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinator if they meet certain criteria as outlined by WorkCover Queensland. If they meet the criteria, they will also need to have workplace rehabilitation policy and procedures within six months of establishing a workplace or starting to employ workers at the workplace. These policies and procedures must be readily available and reviewed at a minimum of every three years.
Injury Management Programs
Injury management programs in workplaces are designed to promote sustainable employment outcomes for individuals who have experienced an injury. Injury management programs are an effective way of assisting workers to return to work and controlling the compensation costs for an employer. An injury management program documents the procedures that staff should follow when and after an injury occurs, and outline how the worker’s safe return to work can be facilitated. WorkCover Queensland has developed best practice guidelines for injury management programs, suggesting that they should include:
- Measurable goals
- Guidance on the compensation process
- Guidance for how the injured employee should be communicated with
- A framework for open communication between all stakeholders
- Expectations of all stakeholders and role clarity
- Related prevention and health promotion programs to minimise chances of future injury
- Guidance on how staff will be made aware of the injury management program
- Information on how conflicts or disputes will be managed.
More information can be found here.
Early intervention and the Biopsychosocial approach
WorkCover Queensland advocates an early intervention approach to returning to work after an injury. This means that a worker’s return to work planning should commence as soon as possible following the injury. If an employer is not a self-insurer, they must not pay the worker compensation themselves, but may pay an amount while the claim is being processed. The employer must inform WorkCover of this within 8 business days of the payment being made.
As a feature of their early intervention methodology, WorkCover has an outline of beneficial strategies and guidance for employers when they are communicating with an injured worker. More information can be found here.
WorkCover also advocates for a biopsychosocial understanding of workplace injury management, to understand and address the needs of the injured worker in the context of their health, personality and social culture and environment. This allows for a more tailored and comprehensive approach to rehabilitation. Find out more here.
Rehabilitation and return to work plan
The rehabilitation and return to work plan is a document that outlines both the rehabilitation objectives for a worker and the steps that must be taken to achieve these objectives. The insurer (which is WorkCover unless the employer is a self-insurer) is responsible for formulating this plan in consultation with medical practitioners, the worker and the employer.
The rehabilitation and return to work plan should include:
- Information about the worker and who their support people are (including a RTW Coordinator if applicable)
- Information about the suitable duties program (see below)
- The rehabilitation and return to work goals of the worker
- The advice of the medical practitioners on their return to work, treatment and capacities, and tasks/duties that should be avoided
- Any modifications or accommodations to the workplace that are required
- A schedule for reviewing the plan.
All stakeholders should sign and date the plan. WorkCover advocates for a person-centred approach to return to work processes. More information can be found here.
If an injured worker cannot safely or practically return to their pre-injury tasks or duties, it is the responsibility of the employer to identify alternative working arrangements, tasks or duties. These are referred to as ‘suitable duties’, and take into account the physical and psychological capacities and restrictions of the worker, any training required and a schedule for the duties to be performed.
The rehabilitation and return to work coordinator is responsible for developing a suitable duties plan for the worker. More information about suitable duties plans can be found here.
If no suitable duties are able to be identified in a workplace, the employer should contact WorkCover to discuss the possibility of the worker using their skills and abilities at a different workplace while they recover. This is called host employment. More information can be found here.
According to the guidelines for the Standard of Rehabilitation, employers must inform workers of the dispute resolution procedures that are available to them if the worker does not agree with aspects of the workplace rehabilitation and return to work plan or suitable duties plan that have been proposed.
Workers can expect that employers will take reasonable measures to preserve the confidentiality of their information. All information should be collated in a personal file and stored in a secure environment. Employers should be aware of current legislative standards regarding privacy of information. It is an offence to misuse a workers’ compensation document.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland requires that they be notified if a certain type of incident occurs in which a worker sustains an injury. This is different to informing WorkCover QLD of an injury, although both can be done at the same time.
More information about notifiable incidents can be found here.
There are no specific return to work or Injury Management display/noticeboard requirements for businesses in Queensland.
Information in this article is correct at the time of publication. While comprehensive, this is not an exhaustive guide to the RTW requirements in Queensland and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and WorkCover are the best sources of information for this. If you’d like to know more about implementing an effective RTW program in your workplace, get in touch with Recovery Partners by calling 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recovery Partners provides personalised service to customers in all areas of workplace safety and occupational rehabilitation. If you’d like to chat about how we can help you, call Recovery Partners on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or email email@example.com.
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 www.workcover.nsw.au
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