In the early days of this site I wrote an article about Injured Worker Support Websites where I asked for comments about the best approach to provide such support. There was a lot of negativity about the WorkCover Victim website at that time. Here is an excerpt from what I considered to be a balanced comment about my article:
“I don’t think websites run by injured workers who are entrenched in their own sick roles or victim roles themselves, will ever be healthy or empowering to other injured workers; its like leaving the lunatics to run the asylum and wondering why no one is getting any better. However, these seem to be the very people who tend to set up these websites and Facebook groups.
Without an appropriately skilled person facilitating or moderating these support websites and focusing its members on positive mind-sets and positive skill building, they devolve into an orgy of victimhood, toxic behaviours and one big pity-party.”
The best known active professional support sites include the New South Wales based Injured Workers Support Network co-ordinated by Rowan Kernebone and in South Australia, Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson runs the Work Injured Resource Connection which provides, as well as information, more practical help through their ‘Bags of Love’ programme and has set up a Deceased Workers Memorial Forest in commemoration of lives lost due to the work place .
More recently the Injured Workers Group of Victoria has set up a site operated by injured workers (I understand with Rowan’s assistance).
In Tasmania, there is a service for injured workers, Worker Assist, with a focus on providing legal advice to injured workers and assistance with navigating the system, but no independent injured worker support site similar to those in NSW or South Australia. I understand, despite efforts to raise awareness about Worker Assist, that this service remains relatively underutilised.
Worker Assist’s website lists the following services:
“Worker Assist provides assistance, information and advice to injured Tasmanian workers in the following areas:
- Workers Compensation Claims under the Tasmanian scheme
- Return to Work and Rehabilitation following a workplace injury
- Claims under the Asbestos Related Diseases Compensation Fund”
Worker Assist is primarily Government Funded and supported by Unions Tasmania, although I understand ongoing funding for the service is not secure in the long-term.
I recently had a call from a person enquiring about whether I knew anyone who could provide support to an injured worker about to attend an IME assessment with a doctor with a somewhat contentious reputation. The injured worker was not a patient of this practice, but I did my best to put them in touch with a person who I thought might be able to help and advised about the services available through Worker Assist.
I see a lot of injured workers struggling to come to grips with the confusion and loss of control inherent in workers compensation. Many need more than legal advice to help them take control and avoid becoming increasingly frustrated and downhearted.
Judging by the queries I receive from my own patients and now enquiries from other quarters, I believe there would be value in Tasmania dedicating additional resources to injured worker support. I wonder about the value of an Injured Worker Support Service to complement the valuable service provided by Worker Assist i.e. not only advice about legal matters and the operation of the system, but to provide more practical support and positive interaction with other workers who share a similar predicament.
Another issue I have encountered is who, or what organisation, can effectively represent injured workers at a system level? Traditionally the union movement has undertaken that role, but with decreasing rates of union membership throughout the workforce and a primary union concern about industrial conditions over health issues, (with some exceptions for specific health risks, such as asbestos), perhaps there is a role for a dedicated organisation representing the interests of injured workers, separate from industrial organisations, at least to complement union representation.
For a service to meet the needs of injured workers, I believe it needs to be primarily run on behalf of injured workers by an ‘….appropriately skilled person facilitating or moderating…’ independent of any organisation with a vested interest using sound principles of support that enhances self-reliance and control to avoid becoming enmeshed in conspiracy theories about workers compensation and adoption of a victim mentality.
What type of model would work best in Tasmania? I am not sure, but I like the idea of a website with useful factual information and worker stories, in combination with more practical help, including providing direct support for injured workers by accompanying then to difficult interactions, education and information meetings, and providing a forum for positive interaction between injured workers.
A professionally run organisation could also act as a lobby group to ensure that the perspective of injured workers is factored in at a system level, through interactions with Government and WorkCover and other representative organisations, such as the TCCI, Unions Tasmania, Insurer Representative Groups and groups representing medical, legal and rehabilitation providers.
I expect Worker Assist and Unions Tasmania might be able to provide some insights into the unmet needs of injured workers from their interactions with injured workers.
It would be useful to obtain comments from Worker Assist, Unions Tasmania and interstate Injured Worker Support Site coordinators and any people in Tasmania who might have an interest in such matters.
I look forward to comments.
What needs to happen is a change within the workers compensation industry to understand that injured workers are simply trying to get well and get back to work- the very last thing an injured worker has the energy for is a legal battle.
We need many more community advocates to be able to work through the challenges facing both the injured worker and the employer instead of the legal bun fights that benefit no one.
I acknowledge I am a community advocate who works towards outcomes that are a combination of understanding and support rather than lawyers at 10 paces.
Peter, you may not know that between 1990 and 2000 a very active support group flourished in Western Australia – the Injured Persons Action and Support Association (IPASA). It had the wholehearted support of the then West Australian Branch of the Australian Democrats.
I well remember attending a rally held outside our Parliament House to witness a protest against mooted draconian changes to the Workers’ Compensation legislation. Some members of IPASA with covered faces carried placards upon which the names of the most notorious insurance doctors were displayed. There was quite a deal support from one of our militant trade unions.
But nothing changed as a result of the protest.
However, at least IPASA was instrumental in having one of the insurance doctors brought before the WA Medical Board. He was subsequently deregistered.
From my own observations, I can only conclude that the various Workers’ Compensation systems function extremely well so long as a sufficient number of doctors are prepared to be used as pawns by third party insurers, and injured workers know their place and do not step out of line.
Richard Gilley posted this comment on LinkedIn. I agree an independent review office would be a great initiative in other jurisdictions:
“Peter, the NSW model for representing injured workers really works well. The Workers Compensation Independent Review Officer (WIRO) reports to the Minister and is able to make decisions on claims which bind insurers. Check out the web site for info on the type of matters WIRO deals with. WIRO was established by a Liberal Government so all you need to do in Tas is to copy the NSW initiative. I’m sure that a labor Government in Tas would love the concept as ought all jurisdictions where there are perceived or actual conflicts between insurers and workers. BTW, some of the comments made on your blog seem to prove just how ignorant people are of compensations systems and their objectives.”
I have also just become aware of WIRO’s monthly report which provides an analysis of enquiries and complaints with breakdown according to insurer – important information for transparency and accountability:
The isolation, confusion and frustration felt by injured workers creates a significant impediment to a healthy rehabilitation and recovery.
Upon a significant and complicated injury a worker is often left standing alone, in the centre of a circle, employers step to one side beside their insurance company and lawyers, while on the other side are your medical team. Orbiting somewhere between these players is a rehab provider, to act as an independent observer to the process, and engage with all parties to, document the process and stay on path to achieve successful outcomes, if you have a good rehab provider that is. Prior to the Worker Assist agency there was no one to provide advice, but there still remains no support network available.
Many people early on in the process are focusing on their health, and returning to a normal function in all areas of life, including work. They are not becoming injured and seeking a combative approach by engaging lawyers, they are seeking good medical input, simple advice on their entitlements and obligations under the Workers Comp legislation, and seeking a supportive employer who is willing to engage in the process and walk with them through the journey. The last thing an injured worker wants to do is risk damaging their relationship with employers by engaging legal representation, not to mention that they can not usually afford it on the income reductions that occur with lengthy claims.
Many people are ignorant of compensation systems and their objectives, for many people researching and interpreting legislation is confusing, and adds stress to an already stressful situation. That is why in my opinion there is a requirement for a representative body and support network, to advise and assist in understanding the system and objectives. A representative with no financial interest, and no agenda, other than achieving a smooth and successful outcome for all stakeholders, and relieving some stress from the employee. On top of representation, provision for a support network would assist many, giving a platform to link people in similar situations to discuss and debrief.
Any entity performing this role must take a centrist position, being skewed one way or the other will lead to poor outcomes, combative positions, and lose focus of the true objectives of the Workers Compensation system. To return people to be best level of function through successful rehabilitation and productively return to the workforce.
Lyndon, it sounds like another statutory body is needed. But I often wonder whether the various WorkCover authorities bear any responsibility for the welfare of injured workers?