Most workers suffering long-term injuries are either left hopeless or seeking revenge due to a lack of support, according to new research findings presented at The Safety Conference in Sydney.
Dr Lynette Guy of the WorkCover NSW Research Centre of Excellence in Newcastle University found workers with chronic injuries fell into one of three groups: Disempowered; Empowered, and Seeking Revenge.
"Only the minority of people with chronic work-related injuries belong to the Empowered group," she said.
"The consequences of living with chronic injury go beyond the medical diagnosis and are shaped by your socioeconomic status and whether you have support from your family, work and friends. The interactions with the workplace, insurance companies, lawyers and health professionals are also instrumental."
"One psychiatrist told me that getting back to work was not the pivotal issue for the disempowered group, it was simply staying alive."
Lack of support also led to hostility and aggression from other injured workers.
"Add the stigma of being injured and comments like 'He's only a bludger' or 'She's after compo – she doesn't really have a problem' to a lack of support and these workers feel they have to fight," Dr Guy said.
"Professionals confirmed that the process itself is very distressing. To quote one doctor, 'Because they have to prove there's a problem and the problem is difficult to prove because it's a pain problem. There are all sorts of hoops which they have to jump through'."
The answer, says Dr Guy, is to support workers soon after the injury and avoid an adversarial approach.
"Support from employers and the insurance companies is critical," she said. "Early intervention can save a lot of angst and money because it can help the person to recover, reducing lost time and avoiding litigation."
"Proper training of insurance company staff can make a difference, as does the training of workplace supervisors. Ultimately, the employer is often in the best position to help an injured person return to work but it's a sad irony that this is where the alienation often begins."
"A worker summed it up by saying: 'If only they'd bothered to call to say they cared.'"