Injured Workers’ Day held 1 June 2020, is a new union led campaign movement, seeking to change the public conversation and lobby for concrete policy changes to support injured workers and their families. The healthcare and social assistance sector are reported as having one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and illnesses, predominantly due to the regular people handling and heavy lifting expected as part of their job, according to Safe Work Australia.
Judith Sutherland had worked as an adult respite coordinator in the disability care sector for more than 18 years before injuring her back while lifting a young woman with cerebral palsy. Judith shares her experience following losing her job after the injury and the importance of understanding your legal rights.
In 2016 I was working for people with a disability at a respite facility and was asked to travel to London to care for a 34-year-old woman with cerebral palsy throughout the trip.
The trip was 15 days long and it was towards the end of the trip in a hotel while lifting her that my back just went. There was no replacement for me and we had to come back through Dubai and Brunei so I had no other choice but to keep lifting her. The male staff member from an agency couldn’t lift her because he was caring for another man on the trip.
I wasn’t involved in organising her holiday and there should have been a hoist there for me to lift her. The trip wasn’t well planned for the woman’s needs and it unfortunately ended up with me being seriously injured.
It should have been planned for a lot better. It’s about looking at realistic support for the client but also making sure the right safeguards for carers are in place. I was lifting this lady six or eight to 10 times per day and helping her use the toilet on a regular basis. I had assumed the equipment would be there when we arrived but it wasn’t.
When I went to receive professional help for my back after arriving in Australia, I found out that my spine had been fractured (the T11 vertebrae).
Luckily the woman had remained safe throughout me lifting her and caring for her.
The organisation admitted to what had happened and that they didn’t follow policies and procedures or the client’s care plan. There was a complete lack of preparation and planning. It did not involve the staff that would have been going away. It should have been about thinking what is the purpose of the holiday, what activities will the client need to do and what resources are needed?”
Soon after the injury, my employer let me go, while I was receiving workers’ compensation payments from the Victorian State Government’s WorkSafe. It was very disappointing. At that stage I potentially had the capacity to work part time. I was only 60 at the time and would have kept working up until age 67 or so.
Initially I rang HACSU to ask them some questions. I am a union member, I got a lot out of the call and members shouldn’t feel intimidated to call for help. I contacted Slater and Gordon to find out more about my legal rights because I felt what had happened was not right. Earlier this year with the help of a lawyer, I received compensation from my former employer for lost income and for the impact the injury has had on my life and my day to day activities.
I think there are many injured workers who don’t understand what their legal rights are and what entitlements are available to them through the workers’ compensation scheme or through investigating a negligence claim with the help of a lawyer.
Some may be worried about speaking out against their employer, especially if their first language isn’t English. Most people are concerned about keeping their job and ability to keep working. Some even continue working with an injury when they would be better off seeking help and having the ability to recover and go back to their job.
The advice I would give to anyone in a similar position, is that if you are being made to undertake tasks which are dangerous such as heavy lifting which is beyond your capacity and you feel as though you might be injured, you should speak up and say something to your manager first.
The worst part about this experience was realising that not a lot of OH&S procedures were being followed in my workplace and lots of other workers were at risk too not just me.
Injured Workers’ Day is all about providing a voice to injured workers across the country and this is something I feel passionate about.
This article has been provided by Slater and Gordon Lawyers, who represented Ms Sutherland in her workers compensation claim. Slater and Gordon has proudly served HACSU and its members for many years, and as a HACSU member, we provide discounted legal services and benefits in the following areas:
Slater and Gordon has expert workers’ compensation lawyers located in each of our 17 offices across Victoria. We can help you at any stage of your workers’ compensation claim.
We also offer exclusive services to HACSU member in the following areas:
To access these discounted services*, contact HACSU Assist today on 1300 651 931 who will arrange a priority referral to Slater and Gordon to ensure your access to special benefits and discounts.
*Conditions apply. See www.slatergordon.com.au for details.