Wednesday 23rd April 2008
How to avoid the Workers’ Compensation trap
Nursing is a physical profession dogged by high injury rates and the murky, confusing world of Workers’ Compensation can add more pain and stress. Nurses should contact the NSWNA if they suffer a workplace injury that prevents them from working.
Nurses who suffer workplace injuries enter the complex, bureaucratic world of Workers’ Compensation.
For the uninitiated, it can be a strange and frustrating place populated by independent medical examiners, injury management consultants, nominated treating doctors and rehabilitation providers.
NSWNA Organiser, Velma Gersbach, said the system works if you know your rights and responsibilities, but there are traps.
‘The legislation requires every effort to be made to return injured workers to “suitable duties” at the earliest opportunity,’ she said.
‘It aims to get people back to work as quickly and safely as possible. It recognises that the longer you are off, the more you de-skill, lose physical fitness and confidence.
‘Too often, unfortunately, nurses don’t contact the Association until their situations become complex or they hit a complication with their employment. This can lead to further problems for people already under stress,’ said Velma.
Nurses should realise that employers and insurance companies have professionals acting for them from the moment a claim is lodged.
It is advisable to seek professional advice of your own.
Nursing is a physical profession dogged by high injury rates.
Constant lifting and manual handling make nurses vulnerable to back and shoulder problems that can take time to heal.
NSW legislation gives management the responsibility of providing ‘suitable duties’ for workers unable to return to their normal roles, and these need not be limited to nursing.
Employers can provide clerical, computing or other work that doesn’t require the same physical effort. The law also obliges them to make ‘reasonable’ changes to the work environment to accommodate restrictions caused by injuries.
But these responsibilities are not all-encompassing. Employers are not obliged to invent work.
And, for nurses who can’t be re-employed or redeployed, the financial consequences can be dire.
WorkCover payments vary. Generally, injured workers receive their ordinary wages for their first six months off the job.
After that, however, they drop back to what is known as the statutory rate. It varies according to circumstances but can be as little as $300 a week.
It is critical to get the best treatment and advice from the start.
The NSW Nurses’ Association advises members that, if they feel disadvantaged, they should not automatically accept the decisions of employers or insurers. Members are entitled to advice and representation on workers’ compensation.
In the event of a claim being knocked back by an insurance company, members can be referred to the Association’s solicitors.
Velma said that while Workers’ Compensation can be a long process, many injured nurses return to their substantive positions without unnecessary drama.
‘Injuries can be traumatic in themselves,’ she said, ‘but it is exacerbated when suddenly you can’t pay your mortgage or receive a letter terminating your employment.
‘The saddest cases we see are people who don’t come for advice until it is too late.
‘Nobody wants to get hurt at work but it happens. One of the first things you should do is contact the Association, even if you think things are going well.’