Workplace related injuries costing Australian economy $60.6 billion each year

Early intervention can help mitigate economic and social cost

Workplace related injuries cost the Australian economy an estimated $60.6 billion each year (4.8 per cent of GDP); however, the economic cost could be mitigated if workers receive early intervention (treatment / rehabilitation) after suffering a physical or psychological injury – plus they will likely experience greater health and return to work outcomes. However, Australian organisations are dragging the chain, the Konekt Market Report shows.

The Konekt Market Report provides valuable insight into workplace injuries over the past five years, what the impacts are and how they can be mitigated. It is the largest report of its kind in Australia, with more than 95,000 compensable cases (where there is a compensation claim arising) and non-compensable cases* (no compensation claim arising) analysed over a five-year period. Konekt partnered with Cortex Solutions, one of Australia’s most experienced and respected research and personal injury management consulting firms, to analyse the data and develop the key findings.

The following trends were observed over the five year period analysed.

  • The number of injured people being referred to Konekt for rehabilitation case management services has remained steady.
  • The number of referrals for RTW services is decreasing while the number of referrals for specific services is increasing. While the non-compensable referral patterns have remained consistent, the compensable referral patterns are changing, contributing to this trend.
  • The RTW rates have remained consistent at an average of 88% for compensable referrals and 94% for non-compensable referrals.
  • The number of referrals following musculoskeletal injuries as a proportion of all referrals is decreasing, as is the average cost and duration of the rehabilitation case management service for these injuries. Specifically looking at the compensable data, the overall number of musculoskeletal injuries have not changed.
  • The average duration of rehabilitation case management service has decreased by an average of 5 weeks from an average of 12 weeks to 7 weeks.
  • The average time from accident to referral to Konekt or the duration of disability prior to referral was trending down and reached an average low of 69 weeks. However, the data for the immediate past year analysed shows an increase to an average of 90 weeks delay from injury to referral.
  • As a proportion of all compensable referrals, the proportion of referrals for mental injuries is 9% which has remained consistent.
  • As a proportion of all non-compensable referrals, those referred for psychological injuries remained static. However, at 24% the average is significantly more than the compensable referrals.

One of the key findings of this report is that the earlier a referral is made post injury, the greater the likelihood of a successful return to work. The report confirms that the less time people spend in the compensation system, the better their health and return to work results.

Overall the RTW rates achieved for those referred specifically for RTW services remained consistent throughout the period analysed at an average of 88%, with an average of 74% returning to full pre-injury hours. Those who did not achieve a RTW outcome had a significantly longer average delay in referral time at 115 weeks compared to those who did achieve a RTW outcome at an average of 39 weeks. More information about RTW outcomes is available in Table 1.

Further, the report clearly demonstrates the considerable opportunity presented by the non-compensable data. Overall, the non-compensable cases outperformed the compensable cases on all criteria including return to work rates, cost and duration of the claim. The rate of compensable referrals which did not result in a RTW rate was 12%, double that for non-compensable referrals.

Significantly, the non-compensable referrals were referred earlier for both RTW and specific services. Perhaps because of this early intervention and preventative approach by employers the RTW rates were better. Policy makers and the regulators need to be looking more closely at this as a best practice model for the compensable market. More comparisons between the compensable and non-compensable outcomes are available in Table 2.

Australia appears to be behind the eight ball when it comes to early intervention. Traditionally a lot of organisations are more reactive than proactive, and wait until a formal claim or complaint is made before acting. There is enormous scope for this to change. If more Australian companies were on the front foot, it would make a huge impact. There are some great Australian success stories, but we need a lot more.

But despite the benefits of early intervention, the Konekt Market Report shows that over the past year there has been an increase in the average time from accident / injury to referral for support and return to work services to 90 weeks.

It is concerning that workplace injury is not being treated more seriously. Compare workplace injury to sporting injuries – if a professional sportsperson is injured, the help they receive is immediate. So why can’t it be the same for workers?

It has been proven that, for most individuals, working improves general health and wellbeing and reduces psychological distress. Even health problems that are frequently attributed to work – e.g. musculoskeletal and mental health conditions – have been shown to benefit from activity-based rehabilitation and an early return to suitable work.

Types of injuries

The majority of injuries referred to Konekt were musculoskeletal (60 per cent) whilst 12 per cent of referrals were for psychological injuries. Interestingly, there were almost three times more referrals for mental injuries in the non-compensable data. However, reporting of mental injury cases is more often delayed than other injuries.

Other findings of the report include:

  • The average age of a worker being referred for rehabilitation services is 41, with 51 per cent of all referrals being for people between 30 and 49 years of age
  • Males account for two thirds of all serious workers compensation claims lodged [claims requiring an absence from work of one working week or more] [Safe Work Australia, 2013]
  • There were more females in the group with mental injuries compared to the group with other injury types
  • The rate of compensable referrals which did not result in a return to work was 12 per cent, double that for non-compensable referrals at 6 per cent
  • For mental health injury, on average there was an 84 per cent return to work, compared with 89 per cent for other injuries
  • Those with lower socioeconomic profiles had a significantly longer average delay to referral time [102 weeks] compared to those with the higher socioeconomic profiles [84 weeks]