The culture of zero lost time injury and team safety bonus – a gutting story


I would like to tell you what has happened recently, writes an injured worker . As  I now have  time to write this  account of what happened,  I apologize if it may be long winded , but  letter writing is not a strength that I normally exercise. But I now must,  in pursuit of  my interests  which  I have failed to look after  properly in the recent past. The injured worker send us a copy of a letter he wrote to the CEO of his company…

The culture of zero lost time injury and team safety bonus – a gutting story

The injured workers story and letter to the CEO of his company [extracts]

 I work in a very amicable environment with technical people, for an organization which looks after our railway communications systems. None of us are there for the money alone. As most of our team are of mature age and most of us don’t want or can’t handle the pressures associated with the highly paid positions that we might otherwise fill. We find that our experience and maturity is appreciated and valued. For many of us it will be the last job we hold. There are no specified advancement opportunities in any of our roles. We work well, both as a team and unsupervised, but we value our supervisor ‘s will and ability to keep us out of any pressure zone that  we  can easily fall into which may cause adverse safety outcomes  like  working late , and making unsafe decisions just to get our jobs done , etc . I quote directly “it is easier to explain why the job has to wait than it is to explain why you were laying in an upturned vehicle at night somewhere”

Over the last decade or so, safety initiatives have been introduced that  have been very effective in reducing work place conditions and hazards and anything that might be a risk to the health and safety of all concerned. It had been a very well executed and completely successful as all the numbers show that the accidents are at near Zero.

These initiatives have been strategically linked directly to the employee’s bonus scheme .With figures like ZERO lost time injuries or just one that may have been prevented. 

There is no doubt that the company is serious and dedicated to this important task .At every safety meeting, without exception we are reminded by our supervisors, managers, and department heads of the effect an injury (especially a lost time injury) will have on our colleagues bonus which creates peer pressure within the workplace to not have an injury or be careful how you go about dealing with it. Usually there are no casualties of this scenario. And it may be beyond our organization’s ability to see that it can have unexpected consequences let alone deal with them unless other procedures are not also kept up to date.

 Our own scheme is a very effective initiative that nobody usually questions, but it is common knowledge that a death is not an LTI (lost time injury), as is the conclusion that if you can walk to hospital or be treated by a doctor and not take any time off work you will be protecting you, and your work mates bonuses.

This is often treated with light hearted humour but we all are made to understand that if you have time off for a work accident you WILL be letting down your work mates.

There is no doubt that management encourages this very effective strategy. As the accident rates can no longer reduce (below zero), management has a new challenge to link an accident rate of zero to our bonus payment. They also offer positive and generous health and well being incentive schemes.

Remembering back a few years, a person needlessly died on the job at BHP port Hedland and a few days later there were people beside the illuminated entrance sign showing in bright neon 20,000 odd hours with no lost time injuries. The people were handing out funeral advice for the guy who was horrifically killed just 500 meters from the sign behind them. Nobody seemed to notice. I was not well received at the safety office when I expressed my disappointment in process.


Recently we all received a welcomed bonus with a letter that stated again our obligation to keep accidents low and even made reference to a few doctors’ visits that occurred but could also be avoided. Clearly, it inferred that our bonus might be bigger, if only we all could meet safety targets.

 It has come to light more recently that much of the profit that increased everybody’s bonus was largely attributable to our section (signals and communications).

3 weeks ago whilst at work, I was using my left arm to reach a screw in an unusual position to unscrew a radio bracket in the boot of a car.  The tool  I was using was a cordless drill .  A severe pain shot down my arm from my shoulder to my wrist. It hurt a lot..My instinctive comment at the time was “Dam  that hurt! “. Anybody nearby may have misheard me as saying “duck that hurt”

Stiffness followed but the pain eased and as long as I did not raise my arm above my head it was tolerable.

Each day the pain got slightly worse and changed in its nature and I had difficulty getting comfortable to sleep. At this point a few days later I decided, against my sense of responsibility to my work mates that I would have to go to the doctor and have it professionally assessed.

I advised my supervisor who naturally not happy and he advised me that I must understand the consequences of having time off work, and that he was advised that he should attend the doctors with me. I said that it would heal but I was worried that it did not seem to be healing like I would expect and I will not have time off work and if the doctor suggests time off work I would call him immediately.  “Any way I can work with one arm for most things”.

 The doctor  ordered  x-ray and ultrasound  investigation  which showed that the tendon in my left shoulder is torn but  may heal in time , otherwise difficult and complicated surgery would have to be performed.

I again said to the doctor that “you can’t have me not fit for work on this  …I must be ok, it only hurts if I raise my arm”

The doctor prescribed strong pain killers in high dose tramo (synthetic opiate) and Mobic (non steroidal anti inflammatory)

 The x-ray and ultra sound clearly showed that most of the underlying tendon was torn held on only by a fraction. I would have to be extremely   careful with my arm.

The pain killers and the anti inflammatory drugs helped with the symptoms but did not help me sleep as the opiate effect of the Tramo did not make me drowsy as the label said it might.

I began to feel fatigued (more than usual) from the reduced sleep hours because of the discomfort in my left arm.

I knew that producing an LTI would let my mates down.

The pain however was increasing daily.

I decided to have physiotherapist asses it and advise of treatment. My appointment was coincidentally on the day of the random drug test.

 A  week  or so after my shoulder injury and prior to the random drug test  I attended my compulsory work medical where I advised the doctor of my shoulder injury and my inability to raise my left arm.

Her comment was that I have a frozen shoulder. I asked her why she would diagnose such a thing when x-rays and ultrasound revealed a torn tendon. She said that MY doctor is probably wrong. I said I just signed a form to allow you full asses to my doctor so please discuss your hypothesis with him. 


What further happened was that the injured worker was desperate to continue work under both his supervisor and peer pressure to not claim “time lost for injury”. He was in extreme pain – anyone who has had a ruptured tendon in the shoulder can vouch for that (including me) and he could not sleep from the pain.

In a desperate attempt to keep working [and not letting his mates down – read: not affect the team’s safety $$$ bonus) he managed initially to obtain a tablet of valium or two  from a colleague, which helped him sleep. However this option ran out and he then, upon recommendation from colleagues and internet research – smoked 1 little joint to help with his severe pain and insomina. He is NOT a drug user in any way or shape or form but had the one joint about 1 full week before his “random drug test”. The drug test the company used is very outdated (non specific) and marijuana will stay in your system for weeks (trace). Yep, you can guess it, this poor injured worker tested positive for drugs, even though he had smoked 1 small joint the week before.

I would politely suggest that the method used to detect  the drug is nowhere near as up to date as the safety initiatives which have indirectly contributed to my situation where I am effectively not fit for work directly because of a work injury and inappropriate testing methods.

In this case I have been stood down for a month with no pay on the strength of an out dated and proven ineffective test. 

I was neither supplied nor offered the ”failed”  results of the first test nor the second test, which I understood, to be a basic entitlement.

The LTI is avoided now, so my fitness to go to work can be directed towards my drug use that resulted from my injury rather than the primary cause.

Unfortunately the culture of “zero LTI” [zero Lost Time Injury] is still rampant in many industries, in particular those industries with high workplace injuries such as construction work. People who happen to injure themselves are under so much peer pressure not to lodge a workers compensation claim, not to have time off work (at ANY cost) and not to seek medical help!

As you can clearly see from this injured workers’ own story, he did the impossible to remain at work with a mangled arm. And, sadly perhaps, he tried one marijuana joint to relief his severe pain and associated insomnia, only to be stood down with no pay.

Now, how SICK is this type of culture?

They (the company) will certainly NOT pay for your lost wages, your medical bills if you are injured – instead they put so much  pressure on their employees through a “safety monetary bonus”. Just imagine what this injured worker had to endure to remain at work at all cost… only to be stood down for a positive drug test, a test that is non-specific and totally outdated, and to accuse him of “working/driving under the influence”. All this because this injured man tried – at ALL cost- not to let down his mates (team bonus) and was under so much pressure not to file a workcover claim.

Sadly, this culture remains rampant… and sickens me. Just doing a quick Google search on “zero lost time injury” brings up hundreds of links, …


[post pre-dicated and entered physically on behalf of WCV]



One Response to “The culture of zero lost time injury and team safety bonus – a gutting story”

  1. The “time lost for injury” itself is a “no right”, misleading and bully scheme aimed at denying workers’ rights in case of an accident.
    In fact by reading this sad story, employees are pushed toward the edge of their human abilities.

    Anyone may be injured at work and if that happens, you may not give more importance to a $$$ bonus but let a Doctor assess your injury which can led to a more serious illness if you do not take care about it.
    What will happen if you loose your entire arm, will the silly $$$ bonus compensate the loss of it or will your dear employer cry for it???

    The drug test itself seems to me a well established tool to punish workers who do not comply with the bully scheme, it’s a “warning” tool telling employees NOT to get sick or have 1 month without pay punishment.
    Again numbers return in favor of the Employer!