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 Tasmania, the government division responsible for workplace health and safety and promoting return to work principles is WorkSafe Tasmania. WorkSafe Tasmania supports the functions of WorkCover Tasmania, which is the body that licenses insurers to cover employers for workers’ compensation claims made by their employees. WorkCover also approves injury management programs of employers, insurers and self-insurers, and accredits workplace rehabilitation providers to deliver their services in Tasmania. The Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 is the relevant legislation that applies here. Amendments were made to Tasmania’s workers’ compensation laws in 2018. Find out more here.
In Tasmania, workers who are injured at work can go through a workers’ compensation claim process. It’s best practice for workers to return to work as soon as possible after an injury, in order to facilitate better health and productivity outcomes for both workers and employers. A faster, safe return to work is a better return to work. Find out more about the benefits of an early return to work here.
When an injury occurs
When a worker is injured, they must tell their employer about the injury as soon as possible, and get a medical certificate from their doctor. While the employer is no longer required to serve workers with a written notice of their right to make a claim, they must still inform them of this right within fourteen days, unless the employee instigates a claim before this. The employer must tell the insurer about the injury within three working days.
Injury management is the process by which an injured worker is helped to return safely to work. Ideally, this should be a collaborative and cooperative process in which all parties work together towards shared goals relating to the safe and timely return to work of the affected individual. The process should be transparent, cost-effective and efficient.
Employers in Tasmania must adopt and comply with the injury management program of their insurer, or have their own approved program in place. Some larger organisations may choose to do this, and self-insurers and agents of the Crown must have their own programs. The injury management program consists of policies and processes that are to be followed in the event of an injury in the workplace. Employees are expected to engage with this program and actively contribute to their own recovery and return to work process. A work health and safety policy that focuses on injury prevention is also an asset to any business.
Penalties apply for businesses who do not have an injury management program and for those who do not comply with their injury management program. Injury management requirements apply even if there is a dispute about the employer’s liability for a worker’s injury.
Read more about developing injury management programs here.
Who else is involved in injury management?
Apart from the employer, employee and insurer, there are several other parties involved in the injury management and return to work process:
- Injury management coordinator
In the instance that a worker sustains a significant injury necessitating 5 days or more of total or partial incapacity, the employer (usually only in large organisations) or insurer may assign an injury management coordinator to them. Injury management coordinators are usually only required in complex or serious cases. The injury management coordinator is responsible for overseeing the entire injury management and return to work process and liaising with all stakeholders. They must ensure that either a return to work plan or injury management plan is developed and implemented (see more below). Injury management coordinators must be trained.
- Return to work coordinator
If an employer has 100 or more workers, they must appoint a Return to Work Coordinator. The return to work coordinator is usually someone who is employed at the workplace and can act as the main point of contact for the worker. Return to work coordinators usually work with injury management coordinators, and must also have specific training.
- Medical practitioner
The medical practitioner who is the primary facilitator of treatment for the worker also has an important part to play in the return to work process. When initially assessing an injury, the doctor is responsible for issuing a medical certificate. On this certificate, they must not certify incapacity for more than 28 days. This ensures the worker’s condition is regularly reviewed.
The worker must tell their doctor and any other health professionals who are treating them any information about their health status that is pertinent.
- Workplace rehabilitation provider
A workplace rehabilitation provider is an organisation that provides services including workplace rehabilitation assessments, functional capacity assessment and advice about matters such as job modification. The provider must be accredited by WorkSafe Tasmania, with some exceptions (see here.)
Return to work plans and injury management plans
When a worker is significantly injured, there are two types of plans that are available to manage their return to work, an injury management plan and a return to work plan. These are a significant part of an injury management program.
A return to work plan is simpler, and details the agreed actions, goals and assistance the worker requires to support them to continue working. An injury management plan is more comprehensive and contains treatment and rehabilitation details as well as strategies to facilitate the worker’s safe return to work.
The worker and employer should both agree to the plans, and the worker’s primary medical practitioner should also be consulted about their content. The plans should be signed by all parties, and developed according to the requirements and time frames of the insurer or employer’ approved policy.
Keeping the job open
When a worker has been injured, the employer must keep their job open to them for a period of twelve months, unless medical evidence suggests that worker won’t be able to fulfil the role or the job is no longer required. If an employer does terminate the employment of the injured worker, they may still be liable for some of their injury management and compensation obligations. Industrial relations laws also apply.
When a worker has been injured and is unable to return to their pre-injury duties, employers must provide suitable alternative duties for them. These duties should be meaningful and not tokenistic. These duties can be decided on in consultation with the worker and treating doctor, and must take into account the medical advice on any restrictions or incapacities the worker has. If the employer believes they are unable to provide suitable alternative duties, they must provide the worker with reasons for this in writing.
Disputes about injury management
If there are any disagreements about injury management, the employer should inform the worker’s injury management coordinator, who can initiate informal mediation to try and resolve it. If this is unsuccessful, any of the parties can refer it to the Workers Rehabilitation & Compensation Tribunal.
Cultivating a positive workplace
Employers and employees can both contribute to cultivating a workplace culture that is positive about workers returning to work after an injury. A supportive culture can go a long way towards a worker’s successful return, and managers, supervisors and other workers should model this behaviour and attitude. Keeping communication lines open and ensuring the worker remains connected to their colleagues while away can also help ease their transition back into work. Employers can also actively seek to implement processes that support the injury management program of their insurer.
WorkSafe Tasmania provides a service called Worker Assist that offers free information, assistance and advice on matters relating to workers’ compensation, rehabilitation and return to work.
Notifiable incidents and noticeboard requirements
Certain incidents are classed as notifiable, and WorkSafe Tasmania must be informed. Find out more here.
While it is no longer a legislative requirement, employers can still choose to display their insurer’s details and a summary of the Workers Rehabilitation and Workers Compensation Act 1988 in a common area for staff to see. A poster can be downloaded here.
Information in this article is correct at the time of publication. While comprehensive, this is not an exhaustive guide to the RTW requirements in Tasmania, and WorkSafe Tasmania is the best source 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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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