A Return to Work (RTW) program is the framework that supports an individual to return to work after a work-related injury. Each state has different legislation and regulations to guide employers, workers and other stakeholders through this process. It’s now understood that returning to work as soon as is reasonably possible after an injury is a better option for both employees and employers.
In the Northern Territory, the government body that issues guidelines for Return to Work programs is called NT WorkSafe. The Northern Territory’s workers’ compensation laws are the Return to Work Act 1986 and the Return to Work Regulations 1986. Together, these laws support a system that provides rehabilitation and compensation for injured workers, instructs employers on effective management of workplace injuries and facilitates the safe return to work of injured workers.
Employers do not have to register as a business with NT Worksafe, but all NT businesses with employees (who are not self-insurers) must have workers’ compensation insurance from a provider approved by NT WorkSafe. More information about workers’ compensation insurance can be found here.
NT WorkSafe supports the position statement, Realising the Health Benefits of Work, introduced by the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
When an injury occurs
When an employee is injured at work, the employer is responsible for assisting, seeking first aid or medical treatment. The injured worker is entitled to choose their own treating doctor, and this doctor can provide them with a ‘statement of fitness for work – first certificate’ that outlines the extent of their injuries. This document can give an indication to employers of any restrictions on the worker, and their capacity for work after this initial assessment.
The worker can make a claim for workers’ compensation by following a certain process. As part of their claim, injured workers have access to services that can help them return to work. If rehabilitation is recommended, the worker must cooperate with treatment programs.
As soon as the ‘statement of fitness for work’ has been received by the employer, return to work planning can begin.
Before an individual returns to work
Before an individual returns to work after an illness or injury, there are things an employer can do to help ensure the process is as positive as possible. These include: maintaining open channels of communication between the worker and other stakeholders, making sure the worker is kept updated about developments, and making sure they are regularly contacted so they feel connected to their colleagues and workplace while they are absent.
Return to Work obligations
While the Northern Territory legislation does not require a Return to Work Coordinator to be appointed in businesses, employers must assist with rehabilitation. Both employers and insurers may also be required to assist with retraining or helping the employee find a new job if they cannot return to their pre-injury work. These obligations are included in the Return to Work Act 1986.
Return to Work plan
A Return to Work plan is the best way to manage a worker’s safe return to work after an injury. A Return to Work plan stipulates how and when a worker can return to work, and what duties they will return to. Some employees may be able to recommence normal duties, but others may need to work reduced hours or perform alternative tasks or modified duties. These are referred to as suitable duties. The worker may also require modified equipment or workplace aids, as well as supervision and other support. These arrangements can be discussed between employees and employers. A vocational rehabilitation provider may also be appointed to help overcome any barriers to a worker making a successful return to work.
A Return to Work plan is a formal agreement that clarifies the rights, obligations, expectations and agreements of all stakeholders. A worker must be consulted when developing a plan for their return to work, and advice from medical practitioners and allied health professionals should be taken into account and these parties may be invited to contribute. As mentioned earlier, a medical professional will need to provide a ‘fitness for work’ certificate that outlines the capacities of the injured worker, and this document is crucial in informing the plan.
The Return to Work plan may be developed by the workers’ compensation insurance provider (in conjunction with the employer and the worker) or a vocational rehabilitation provider they appoint. If no vocational rehabilitation provider is appointed, the employer must develop the Return to Work plan in consultation with the worker. The worker is expected to take an active role in facilitating their own recovery at work.
The following information should also be included in the plan:
- Physical restrictions and capacities
- How co-workers will be communicated to about the plan
- How the confidentiality and privacy of the worker will be safeguarded
- How and when the plan will be monitored and reviewed
- An agreed-upon goal for the worker
- Suitable duties
- Hours worked
- Supervision and support arrangements for the worker
- Any workplace modifications/equipment required
- Dispute resolution measures and how to access them
- Treatment times/dates.
The plan must be agreed to by the worker, and both the worker and employer should sign it. The plan should be regularly reviewed, and revised as required.
Employers must give a return to work plan proposal in writing to a worker within 7 days of becoming aware that the worker’s total or partial incapacity for their pre-injury work is likely to exceed 28 days.
Regulations and requirements for other parties
In the Northern Territory’s workers compensation system, medical practitioners, allied health professionals, rehabilitation providers and insurers all have an important part to play in supporting workers to return to work. NT WorkSafe has endorsed the Clinical Framework, which provides guidance to allied health professionals in the delivery of services to injured workers and aims to optimise return to work outcomes. NT WorkSafe also uses the Nationally Consistent Approval Framework to approve rehabilitation service providers and ensure service quality is maintained. To find out more about the regulations and requirements for other parties involved in workers compensation and return to work planning, select from the following links:
If a claimant does not agree with the decision of the insurance provider or self-insurer, a dispute may arise. Insurers are required to have an internal process for dispute resolution. NT WorkSafe can also provide a mediation service if earlier resolution attempts are ineffective. Following mediation, a claimant who is still dissatisfied can make an application to the Work Health Court. Find out more here.
Injuries and notifiable incidents
If a worker sustains an injury at work, the employer is responsible for assisting the injured worker with first aid or medical treatment. If the incident is notifiable (find out more here), NT WorkSafe must be contacted immediately.
There are no specific Return to Work or Injury Management display/noticeboard requirements for businesses in the Northern Territory.
Information in this article is correct at the time of publication. While comprehensive, this is not an exhaustive guide to the RTW requirements in the Northern Territory, and NT SafeWork is the best source of information for this. If you’d like to know more about implementing an effective RTW program in your workplace, get in touch with Recovery Partners by calling 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recovery Partners provides personalised service to customers in all areas of workplace safety and occupational rehabilitation. If you’d like to chat about how we can help you, call Recovery Partners on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or email email@example.com.