Let's get loud

Gabrielle Lis

Taking ages to recover and return to regular duties after a workers' compensation claim? Make some noise!

Making a workers’ compensation claim involves you in a system that was set up to support you financially, medically and vocationally while you recover and return to your usual job (or other suitable employment). Unfortunately, that same system can leave you feeling discouraged and powerless.

You might be:

  • Worried about your injury or illness;
  • Afraid of getting sicker, or hurting yourself again;
  • Stressed out by other things that are happening in your life;
  • On the receiving end of instructions that just don’t make sense;
  • Not getting any better; and/or
  • Stuck on modified duties that don’t feel quite right.

The best way of dealing with this situation is to:

  1. Speak up;
  2. Make sure that everyone involved in your return to work plan has a good understanding of both what you can do, and how much effort your workplace responsibilities actually involve; and
  3. Ask your employer or doctor about what support is available before you’re at the end of your tether.
Speak up

There are lots of reasons you might think it’s better to stay quiet, for example:

  • You don’t think your concerns are relevant to your health problem, or to the workplace;
  • You’re worried about rocking the boat, for example by expressing concerns about your modified duties;
  • Someone in the workplace is making things difficult, and you don’t want to make the situation worse; and/or
  • You don’t trust your supervisor.

However, staying quiet can actually cause more problems:

  • Your employer and the other people involved in your claim / return to work might notice that you have concerns but misinterpret them, thinking that you don’t actually want to be part of the process;
  • You might hurt yourself again, or delay recovery;
  • You might be worrying yourself unnecessarily, and if you spoke up a doctor might be able to reassure you that you are not, for example, in danger of re-injury; and
  • You might be missing out on help that could make your life a whole lot easier.

Remember: it is completely normal for your recovery to be affected by things that don’t have anything to do with work, or your injury / illness.

Experts in the field of workers’ compensation and return to work believe that medical issues are just one of many factors that influence how quickly and successfully people recover from injury, and get back to work. If troubles at home, conflict at work or fears about the future are weighing on your mind, chances are they’re affecting your recovery too. 

Explain your job in detail and tell people what you can do

Modified duties play an important role in getting you back to work quickly and safely; but since your doctor has probably never been to your workplace, and your supervisor probably isn’t a medical expert, it can be hard to strike a balance between keeping you safe, and keeping you active.

Worker advocate Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson tells a story about an injured worker, who worked in a cheese factory that made a selection of gourmet dips.  

“The injured worker was cleared to lift 10kgs. However no consideration had been given to the real weights involved in loading a trolley with the cheese and then pushing the trolley from the cold room to the cutting bench.

“Then no consideration was given to the amount of force required to cut the cheese wheels to sizes that could be placed into the cheese blender.”

Rosemary says that, although on paper it looked like the medical restrictions were being met, total job requirement had not been taken into account, and, “It actually took another worker to point out why the injuries were not able to heal.”

Another problem is when medical restrictions are too restrictive, leaving you to spend your working days feeling bored, frustrated and unproductive. This can also delay recovery, as in most instances, staying active promotes rehabilitation.

Problems like these are likely to go unsolved, unless you draw them to someone’s attention.

Ask about support before you’re at the end of your tether

Annette Williams, who is the National President of the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association, says that seeking help as soon as you need it can prevent problems from spiralling out of control.

“Talk to your doctor and your workplace, and if you need more assistance, ask them what is available. Don’t be afraid to ask for support.”