BEING injured at work can do more than physical damage. An injured worker’s relationships can also suffer when they find themselves on the job sidelines.
WorkSafe return-to-work director Dorothy Frost says work often plays a huge part in defining who we are and it can be difficult to cope when that’s taken away.
“Not being able to work often makes people feel they’ve lost a part of themselves – their identity,” she explains.
She says uncertainty about the future can also weigh heavily on the injured worker. They might worry about family finances or be anxious about returning to work or not being able to return to their old job because of their injury. “It’s the uncertainty and the fear that make people behave differently and which really impacts their relationships,” Frost says.
Worksafe psychologist Dr Peter Cotton says it can be particularly difficult for workers who, because of language and education barriers, have limited options to be retrained.
“They’ll often end up feeling completely lost and that can actually lead to a secondary psychological injury,” he says.
“As a reaction to their physical injury, some people become clinically depressed.”
Cotton, senior mental health clinician for WorkSafe and the Transport Accident Commission, says coping with a workplace injury is distressing for most workers to varying degrees.
Frost says many injured workers also find themselves debilitated by pain and suddenly stuck at home, adding to stress on the entire family.
“That can really change the family dynamic,” she says.
“You’ve got a grumpy person sitting at home bored, they’re unwell and can’t do anything around the house. The longer that goes on, the more difficult it can be on relationships.”
Frost says getting back to work as soon as possible is a key to safeguarding the wellbeing of an injured worker and their family.
About 30,000 Victorians are injured on the job each year. Most return to work within a couple of weeks, but about 3000 are still unable to work six months later.
WorkSafe pays about 80 per cent of an injured worker’s wage for up to 2 1/2 years, with some employers choosing to tip in the difference.
TIPS FOR INJURED WORKERS
* Ask your doctor how long and how full your recovery is likely to be. Not knowing can increase your fear and stress.
* Ask and do your own research about the support available from Worksafe. Family members can play a part here, especially if the worker is distracted by pain.
* Don’t rely on the advice of people who really don’t know what they’re talking about, such as a neighbour or friend who once knew someone who was injured at work.
* Be open to taking up a new occupation, interests and leisure pursuits.
TIPS FOR PARTNERS
* Be patient with your injured partner.
* Understand their treatment and rehabilitation, and support that at home.
* Look for signs your injured partner could be depressed — are they withdrawn, are they drinking and smoking more, are they upset?
* Encourage your injured partner to seek help if they’re not coping.