Workers Compensation Claims – Effects of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a change to the workers’ compensation system and the status of claims and how they are managed. Workers who have been on existing claims may be now restricted from returning to work. There may also be payment disruptions where workers have had their employment terminated due to business shutdowns. Medical treatment for those claims may be unavailable such as certain surgeries, hydrotherapy etc. Amongst other challenges, these issues pose a disruptive impact to the treatment and return to employment for the injured workers.

At Absolute Balance we treat a range of musculoskeletal injuries and stress related claims in the workers compensation system. As a consultant, I have seen my patients lose their positions with their previous employers or losing their graduated increase in hours as per their return to work plan due to the COVID-19 virus. The effect of this has not yet been reported in the WorkCover WA statistics however, the effect of this is starting to become apparent in the field.

Workers are losing focus and have had their goals disrupted due to their loss of workplace hours or no hours to go to. This places the worker in a holding pattern until suitable duties/hours are found. This has an impact on a worker’s physical function, especially if they were previously in a physical role however this also leads to an impact on their mental health and stress. According to WorkCover WA statistics, the number of stress-related claims in the previous 4 years has increased by 8% with this expected to be even higher when the effects of COVID-19 are analyzed. It is important to note that along with an increase in these claims, the average cost and duration is higher for stress-related claims with average days lost in 2018/2019 at 155 days.

Exercise physiology can play a part to continue to progress the workers during this difficult time. It has been supported by WorkCover WA to keep active at home and maintain their fitness and function. This provides a focus for the injured worker to stay on track to reach their rehabilitation goals to get their function back to pre-injury status. Just because the gyms are closed does not mean exercise has to cease. We have adapted our sessions to local parks whilst keeping social distancing requirements so that we can still progress patients through their rehabilitation. This has been especially important for those workers who were expecting to undergo surgery sooner as prehabilitation reduces anaesthetic risk and is associated with better postoperative outcomes. Workers who are suffering from mental health conditions and other stressors are still provided with structure, routine, a reason to leave the house, along with the additional benefits that exercise can provide for mental health conditions. For those workers who are currently not engaged in any treatment or have not been progressing due to the COVID-19 pandemic this poses as dangerous to the worker resulting in further loss of function and results in costly treatment and increased duration. Contact Absolute Balance to see how exercise rehabilitation can assist you to keep workers progressing.

Taylor Downes

Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (ESSAM)

References
WorkCover WA. (2020). COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Claim Impacts. https://www.workcover.wa.gov.au/news/covid-19-workers-compensation-claim-impacts/
Government of Western Australia. (2020). Stress-related Workers’ Compensation Claims in WA. WorkCover WA. https://www.workcover.wa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/BISstatrep_20200331-2020-Stress-Related-Claims-Statistical-Note.pdf