Managing Injured Workers
Injury management is more complex than simply making sure employees are not harmed at work, or making sure they get back to work as soon as possible. Injury management includes preventing injuries, rehabilitating injured workers, and also includes the mental health of workers
Workplace injury has many hidden costs which are often not considered, especially prior to the injury when everything is working smoothly.
Injury is a common occurrence in any workplace and it is your job to prevent them as best as possible. This can be done by monitoring jobs you know have a chance of injuring workers, particularly jobs that are repetitive or physically demanding.
The best form of injury management is preventative and proactive. This means monitoring workers behaviour to predict whether injury is likely if they continue what they are doing, or moving workers off repetitive and physically demanding jobs before damage can occur. This can be managed by regularly rotating responsibilities for different employees and training employees to perform different roles when others become fatigued.
Injuries are most likely to occur when workers are performing tasks they are unfamiliar with. Any new processes require managers and supervisors to provide extra training and supervision, and this should be reflected in your monitoring of new work practices. Similarly, any abnormal work situation carries an increased risk to workers. As a supervisor you must caution workers of these dangers.
As a more permanent solution for repetition and strain based injuries, job redesign may be necessary. If you feel this is the case, consult with management to see if changes can be made to reduce strain on employees.
Physical injuries are not the only safety issue you need to be observant of. Mental health can drastically impair a workers ability to work safely. In fact, a significant proportion of the Australian population (approx. 20%) are likely to be experiencing a mental health condition at any one time.
Some signs that may indicate a mental health issue is present:
- Slower movement, speech or work behaviour,
- Agitation or aggression towards others,
- Antisocial or atypical behaviour,
- Difficulty concentrating, particularly with multiple or complex tasks,
- Arriving late to work repeatedly,
- Being unusually stressed or emotional.
If you are concerned about someone there are several steps you can take which will provide much needed support.
Step 1: Talk to the person about it. Remember to be open and non-judgmental in your approach.
Step 2: If your organisation offers an employee assistance program advice them to use its services.
Step 3: Advise them to seek outside assistance from a trained professional.
There are several resources you can refer people to in the case of mental health concerns. These include:
SA health - www.sahealth.sa.gov.au
Healthdirect Australia - 1800 022 222
Australian Psycological Society - www.psychology.org.au/findapsychologist
Lifeline (Crisis counseling) - 13 11 14
Relationships Australia - 1300 364 277
Complex Needs Clinic (Specialises in family therapy) - 8221 6066
As a supervisor you need to be familiar with the rehabilitation process at your workplace. Many supervisors are unsure of this process and only become familiar with it when an injury occurs. Some injuries can become worse while you are trying to work out what to do, which is why it is important for you to already know how to deal with it.
By becoming familiar with the rehabilitation process before an accident happens you will be able to deal with injuries much more efficiently and responsibly, without wasting time that could further the injury to the worker. Understanding methods of rehabilitation will also help you to manage injured workers when they return to work.
Mentoring the Injured Worker
Injured workers need to be monitored closely, not only on the job, but also while they are recuperating. A really simple way of doing this is phoning your injured employee to see how they are going with the recovery. By proactively showing an interest in your employees recovery it demonstrates that they are a necessary part of the team and also encourages them to come back to work sooner, even if at a limited capacity.
Giving injured workers something to do at work can be difficult but it is important for the rehabilitation process. Every now and then check up on them, ask about the injury, and see if they'd like to move onto something a little bit more complex, when they're feeling up to it. Your interest in the rehabilitation process demonstrates to employees that you want them working for you, which in turn helps build a strong work safety culture.