Help us shape the future of mental health in small business

According to the NSW Mental Health Commission, 17 per cent of people in NSW will experience mild to severe mental illness each year and a further 23 per cent are believed to have an undiagnosed mental health problem. With 1.51 million people working in small business in NSW, approximately 600,000 may be affected each year.

The opportunity to change the mental health and wellbeing of the NSW community by targeting small business is great.

Despite the availability of effective treatments for mental health conditions, evidence suggests that many people either do not seek treatment at all, or seek treatment following lengthy delays, during which the health, social and work consequences can accumulate.

Evidence also suggests that current workplace mental health programs tend to focus on larger organisations and industries and are not addressing the unique nature or the specific needs of small business.

Researchers at Everymind are developing a workplace mental health program for those who work in small business. They will work in partnership with the Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research at the University of Newcastle, the icare Foundation, and other health, mental health and business partners in NSW and nationally.

If you own a small business or have worked in a small business (20 employees or less), tell us what you think about mental health!

A range of mental health resources are also available from our website or call 13 10 50.

Small employers: know your responsibilities

Small businesses face a unique set of challenges when it comes to workplace injury, and this often results in unnecessary stress for the employer and potentially a longer recovery process for the worker.

So what is the best way to deal with a workplace injury?

First things first

If a worker is injured in your workplace, there are some things you, the employer, must do. These include:

  1. provide first aid and make sure your worker gets the care they need
  2. contact your insurer within 48 hours of the incident, notifying them of the injury
  3. record the incident in your register of injuries
  4. help your worker recover at work.

The first three steps can be completed in quick succession, but the fourth step is more involved. Don’t worry; these tips will help guide you through the workers compensation return to/recover at work process.

Know your role

The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) oversees the NSW workers compensation system. It’s their job to make sure the system is fair, transparent and effective for the people it supports – that is, workers and employers like you.

SIRA has published a number of easy-to-understand guides to help employers and workers navigate the workers compensation process. The Workers compensation guide for employers is free and available on the SafeWork NSW website. When you know your employer rights and responsibilities you are better equipped to manage a workplace injury and the process will go smoothly. Of course, you can always contact SIRA and/or your insurer with any questions you may have.

Apply for assistance

You pay insurance premiums for a reason. Talk with your insurer and see if you can apply for assistance. Your insurer may offer special assistance to eligible small employers.

Assistance programs like this are good for everyone, helping you and your worker get back to business as usual.

Engage with your worker’s support team

Talk with your worker’s return to work support team. The insurer, nominated treating doctor and health professionals have experience and expertise you can use.

Find out which tasks your worker can perform, which ones they should avoid, whether workplace modifications might help, as well as any practical steps you can take to make their return to work easier and successful. Remember, these people are here to help you and your worker, so make the most of it.

Maintain a dialogue with your worker

Be sure to check in with your worker. Whether they are off work for a period of time or working modified duties, good communication ensures a healthy relationship and improved return to work outcomes. A weekly conversation means any concerns that arise can be identified and dealt with straight away so they don’t turn into problems.

Prevention is better than a cure

As an employer, you are responsible for the health and safety of your workers. By law you must:

  • talk to your workers to identify any potential hazards
  • put systems in place for the safe use and maintenance of equipment, plant and machinery
  • provide suitable information, instruction and supervision, especially to new workers
  • ensure there are adequate workplace facilities including toilets, drinking water, washing and eating facilities as well as first aid
  • record any workplace incidents in a register of injuries and respond to hazards quickly
  • prepare emergency plans
  • manage the risks of any remote and isolated work
  • have a return to work program to help injured workers with their recovery and return to work.

By meeting these requirements, you minimise the risk of workplace injury and are prepared should an incident occur.

Incentives for good workplace health and safety practices

Many insurers provide premium-based incentives to improve workplace health and safety, and return to work outcomes. Speak to your insurer to find out if and how you can take advantage of these incentives.

Learn more

Contact your insurer for specific information about your policy, and the programs and incentives available to you. You can learn more about NSW workers compensation and workplace health and safety at safework.nsw.gov.au or by calling 13 10 50.

Why you should change now

Imagine how it would affect you to see a workmate’s leg being torn to shreds.

Think about it.

After someone gets seriously injured at work, everything changes.

You churn over the what-ifs, the bad decisions, the oversights and the poor systems, and you start a journey to make sure it never happens again.

That’s what happened after Nigel Smith got caught in the conveyor at a steel tube mill, 22 years ago.

That day the conveyor had a jam-up.

Nigel turned the machine off and went to fix the problem; he was more worried it would cause stoppages down the line than anything else.

But when he removed the jam the machine restarted automatically.

Kevin Baker was one of the first guys on the scene.

‘Another three feet and Nigel would have been cut in half. It was horrific,’ Kevin said.

He said he can still hear Nigel’s screams.

Two decades on Nigel – now a workplace safety ambassador for WorkCover and the Australian Paralympic Committee – was invited back and returned to his old workplace to see what had changed.

Nigel spoke to old colleagues, friends, and a new generation of steel workers at Austube Mills, about the experience that affected both the business and its people.

Kevin hasn’t forgotten that day; it informed a deeply personal philosophy.

‘Look after each other. That’s what we’re here for. If you don’t look after each other it’s a waste of time being here.’

Nigel’s incident was another turning point for Austube Mills around isolation; it also sparked a dedicated safety journey around behavioural safety and influenced a new kind of worker.

These workers don’t commonly experience workplace injuries first-hand anymore; they became the beneficiaries of a safety culture that was forged in the aftermath of Nigel’s accident.

Garry Meagher, Manager of Safety Quality, Environment and Training, said everyone at Austube Mills is now part of the safety culture.

‘We’ve attempted to build and improve our capability so that we move from just being compliant, to being fully committed,’ Garry said.

‘Our leaders promote safety culture and focus on this with our workers because keeping people safe is what matters. We move people across to that way of thinking.

‘We’re doing it because we want to, not because we have to. Because it’s the right thing to do.

‘If we had the right training and infrastructure back then around Nigel’s incident, we might have prevented it.’

As Austube Mills story shows, the tragedy of an incident can be the trigger for something special.

Incidents like Nigel’s are a constant spur for people there to strive to improve every day, to value safety above all else – as Kevin says, to ‘look out for each other.’

But nothing can replace the leg that was lost or the lives that were damaged.

I hope you never have to go through something like this. But I hope you are already asking, ‘What if?’

What if you started your own journey now?

Watch the emotional story in Full Circle and make a decision: not to wait for your Nigel Smith.

Mobile phones a potential workplace hazard

A truck driver, distracted while using a mobile phone, knocked over a worker as he was reversing into the loading area, causing them serious injuries. The worker sustained multiple jaw fractures and a punctured and collapsed lung. Initially hospitalised for 10 days, he didn’t return to work for 14 months and required ongoing surgery.

This incident illustrates the sort of severe injuries that can occur when workers are distracted by using mobile phones in the workplace.

Many workplaces now ban mobile phones as they can be extremely distracting – especially due to the increasing popularity of smartphones with email and apps.

WorkCover Team Coordinator Anthony Nicholson said this was a good practice, particularly for high-risk work where workers needed to focus on the activity.

“But even in a relatively safe workplace, such as a warehouse environment, someone walking while checking their phone could easily slip or trip,” he said.

“Workers should consider the most appropriate times to use their phones, which, generally speaking, would be morning tea or meal breaks. What text message or Facebook update could be more important than your own safety?”

The risks of using phones while driving vehicles is well documented; research shows it increases the risk of crashing by at least four times, typically resulting in run-off-road or rear-end crashes.

Indicating rising concern, a guide warning workers about the potential danger of mobile phone distraction has been published by the American Training Resources website.

It states many workers do not give a second thought to texting as they complete daily tasks.

‘Just like other workplace distractions such as chattering with co-workers, horseplay or having our mind on something other than our task, being distracted by using the phone also causes us to lose our focus on the job at hand,’ the guide states.

It cites a tragic US incident, where a forklift driver checking a text message – contravening a company rule that phones be kept in lockers during shifts – struck and killed a co-worker.

Expecting ultrasound results to discover the gender of his wife’s baby, he was moving pallets in a storage yard when a text alert sounded. Excited, he momentarily looked down at his phone and failed to see a co-worker walk in front of his forklift.

The guide states that even if a business has no restrictions on mobile phone use, workers need to realise texting or updating social media while performing any task is dangerous: ‘Being distracted, even for a moment, could cause major injuries and property damage.’

To contact WorkCover NSW, call 13 10 50 or visit our website.

Eight tips for a safe loading dock

In 2012-13, about 15 per cent of workplace injury claims in the road freight transport industry were the result of someone being hit by a moving object or being trapped between a stationary and moving object. Being hit by a forklift, for example, caused numerous serious (sometimes fatal) injuries.

When loading or unloading is underway, follow these handy tips to ensure that everyone remains safe:

• Separate pedestrians from traffic flows with barriers, such as guard rails, bollards or fences

• have clearly marked walkways and warning signs in busy traffic areas

• install ‘exclusion zones’ around trucks involved in loading or unloading – and forbid access to pedestrians

• schedule deliveries so that the loading dock is never overcrowded

• ensure forklifts are fitted with warning lights, reversing signals, seat belts, alarms and mirrors – and ensure operators are trained and hold the appropriate high risk work licence

• provide ‘safe zones’ for drivers if they are not required for loading or unloading activities

• provide clear site and safety instructions to visitors and drivers, so they know where to go and what to do when loading or unloading is underway

• ensure all those involved in loading or unloading are working to the same plan and know who will be in control, how to communicate and what equipment to use.

For more information on working safely in loading docks, watch this video.

Get some more tips and advice at workcover.nsw.gov.au or call us on 13 10 50.

Reaching out to injured workers is a win-win

Just because your injured worker is out of sight it doesn’t mean they should be out of mind.

Maintaining regular contact with employees off sick or away following a workplace injury not only makes them feel more valued but can actually assist with their recovery and safe return to work.

Contact might be a sensitive issue depending on circumstances, but it’s worth making the effort as helping your worker get back on deck – even on modified or new duties – is a positive outcome for both sides.

So aim to get involved in discussions with your insurer’s case manager about how workers will be consulted and keep the employee in the loop, sending them any work-related emails or texts so they are on the same page as their workmates.

Also consider forwarding your employee work-related documents or minutes and outcomes of meetings, particularly anything that is relevant to their role.

It’s vital you don’t let the extra workplace pressure or stress caused by the absence cloud your interaction with the worker, which could be counter-productive to their recovery or willingness to play ball.

Maybe try imagining the worker is a friend who you would go the extra mile for if they were in the same situation, and treat the absent worker accordingly. Reach out as much as you can within reason, always be positive and reassure them everything is going to be ok.

If there are any social work-related events or gatherings, even if it’s just a quick catch-up after work one afternoon, and you think the worker won’t be able to make it, invite them anyway.

Such efforts can go a long way to boosting your worker’s morale and reinforce how indispensable and critical they are, not only to you, but to the workplace and their colleagues.

Make sure you are available for any return to work meetings with the worker and case manager, and always maintain a positive can-do attitude towards them and the goal of a workplace return.

This process will also assist you with how best to plan for the worker’s safe return to work, especially if any adjustments to their normal workload, work area or tasks are necessary.

The good news is that you may be eligible for our Return to Work (RTW) Assist Program – your insurer can advise if you are – available for six weeks during the 13-week period from the date of injury. Extra funding may also be available to help cover costs of new equipment or modifications required because of the injury to enable your worker to resume duties or start a new role. Clearly the worker may not be firing on all cylinders, so this won’t be an easy task, but under the RTW Assist Program, your insurer continues to pay the worker’s weekly entitlements while they undergo a staged return to work on reduced hours and duties.

This arrangement will enable you to pay another worker to fill the injured worker’s role – or pay overtime to another worker – but the crucial thing is that the injured worker is back in the workplace where they will recover faster.

Residual pain, discomfort or anxiety can often be managed via appropriate task adjustments, while staying away from the workplace can be detrimental to recovery. It’s also possible that barriers to returning to work may build up due to personal or family-related issues – particularly if they are left alone to deal with problems – rather than the original injury or health condition.

Early action on your part will also help prevent a long-term absence turning into a resignation and the hassle of finding someone suitable to fill their shoes.

Speak to your insurer about your Return to Work Assist eligibility and find out more about assistance at workcover.nsw.gov.au where you can download the necessary paperwork:

Return to Work Assist Program for micro employers (catalogue no. WC04884)
Retraining, equipment and workplace modifications (catalogue no. WC02807)
Need more assistance? Call us on 13 10 15.

How to turn a near miss into a positive

A near miss can come completely out of left field despite your best efforts and even if workers are being as careful as they can.

It could be someone slipping in the loading area or a workmate being hit by a chain while securing a load. Or it might be potentially more catastrophic, say an out-of-control forklift – but thankfully with no-one injured.

While serious ‘notifiable incidents’ must be reported to WorkCover immediately, it is equally critical that you and your workers don’t turn a blind eye to smaller scale non-reportable incidents.

A seemingly insignificant near miss could be a wake-up call indicating safety precautions are not up to scratch and if swept under the carpet, your business could suffer. If another similar incident occurs, this time it might result in injury, lost time, the need to hire a replacement or pay overtime and a raft of other headaches.

But by learning from near misses and making changes – even if it’s something as basic as tidying up potential trip clutter in the loading area – you can help avoid downtime and ensure workers return home safe each day.

Some research suggests that for every incident where someone is injured, there are as many as 90 prior near misses. And just because a worker has got accustomed to using faulty equipment on a daily basis without incident, say a forklift with worn tyres, it does not mean that the forklift is safe to use or the worker is safe using it.

Although it might seem like a hassle, logging details of every near miss – no matter how minor – is a very smart business investment. Basic details you need to record are who was involved, when and where it took place, what happened and how.

Hopefully your workplace will be incident free, but if not, and the incidents are minor and you log them all – and schedule a regular review of the log – then over time you may be able to identify patterns and then do something about it before someone gets seriously hurt.

One problem you could face is getting workers to report every near miss or minor slip incident, as these are often laughed off or the worker might be too embarrassed to put their hand up. Another stumbling block is that a worker who accidentally drops a pallet and almost hits a workmate might not report the near miss for fear of getting in trouble.

So it is vital that you encourage workers to always report near misses. Assure them they will not face any retribution and might actually help to prevent a repeat incident involving a direct hit and tragedy. Reinforce this by establishing a work health and safety segment at meetings or toolbox talks, where workers can raise an issue or log a near miss.

Find out more about near misses and get some more handy safety tips at the WorkCover website or give us a call on 13 10 50.