Part 1

Abstract

Conducting business in an ever changing world means that employers often seek the flexibility of hiring temporary staff in preference to committing to a longer term employment relationship.  Labour hire organisations who lease out, at a cost, to host employers staff for short term, menial or unpleasant tasks are often left in the situation that when those temporary staff are injured, the host employer cannot provide assistance with returning injured workers to a pre-injury state.  There are many reasons for these delays, and a compelling theme is the lack of suitable duties to be found with the pre-injury host employer of these staff. 
This paper details one method of assisting both labour hire organisations and their client host employers to proactively rehabilitate injured labour hire workers.  The use of a best practice tool can guide both labour hire organisation and host employer through the often troubled waters of injury management of injured labour hire workers with the aim of removing many of the impediments to rehabilitating those workers. 

It isn’t the intention of this tool to sit in a client folder, hidden away until something goes wrong and a temporary worker is injured.  It is intended for use immediately that a tender is won, or contracts of engagement are signed.  This tool encourages open dialogue between both labour hire organisation and host organisation at the outset of their business relationship, and continues to guide them through the rehabilitation process in the event that a temporary employee is injured. 
 
Introduction
Precarious employment is a term often used to describe people who are employed under conditions that are not stable.  Examples of precarious employment include those who are employed on a casual basis instead of a permanent basis and those employed by labour hire organisations. 

The very nature of the labour hire industry is that labour is typically sought by host employers for specific, short term, unpleasant or menial duties for which a permanent employee is not required.  When these precariously employed individuals are injured while on hire to client host employers, the issues pertaining to rehabilitation and suitable duties are raised, and the often difficult task of finding suitable duties begins.  Frequently the outcome of this process is the finding that the host either does not have suitable duties, or is reluctant to keep the injured worker on, viewing them in a poor light regarding ongoing risk management.  People employed in precarious or temporary employment should be entitled to the same rehabilitation process as permanently employed individuals, yet this is not always the case. 

Injured labour hire workers frequently suffer longer returns to work than their permanent counterparts.  The financial burden this places upon the labour hire organisations as a whole can be substantial, as reflected in the levies paid in these industries.  Prolonged returns to work can leave injured labour hire workers feeling rejected and isolated which can further delay their return to work.  For these reasons, timely and sustainable return to work outcomes for labour hire workers are required.  
 
Background
Host employers are often reluctant to have injured workers return to their worksites until they are completely fit, if they have them back at all.  This isn’t entirely unfair.  From a host’s perspective, they are paying a premium for workers who are fit to undertake the duties for which they were engaged.  Hosts are frequently unable to provide suitable alternative duties, or are under the (often mistaken) impression that a labour hire organisation will have a plethora of hosts willing to take the worker until they are cleared, and that those hosts will have suitable duties for those injured workers.  The reality is they do not in many circumstances (George, 2001). 

South Australian legislation, as it currently stands, does not specifically identify host employers as having a responsibility towards the rehabilitation and return to work of labour hire staff injured whilst on hire at their premises.  The result of this currently is that host employers cannot be compelled to participate in the rehabilitation and return to work of labour hire workers injured whilst on hire at their premises. 

Labour hire organisations are frequently left struggling to find suitable alternative or light duties within their own organisation, and the most common outcome of this is that no suitable duties can be found.  Injured labour hire staff subsequently often languish at home whilst their injury heals, and are left without paid work at the end of the day. 

There have been many suggestions to improve the plight of injured labour hire workers, ranging from demands for legislative change, see for example Bluff et al (2004), through to the addition of unlegislated contractual demands for assistance in rehabilitating injured labour hire workers (WorkCover, 2001).
While legislation can and will continue to change, legislation alone is rarely the only solution to any problem. 
 
Discussion
In seeking non legislative changes to improve return to work outcomes in labour hire workers, one must consider the culture in which such people work, and how those cultures may change.  Changing organisational culture at its upper most level is crucial to effect changes lower within the organisation.  Every workplace has its own ‘safety culture’.  That is, a series of beliefs and values regarding safety.  The problem with even a so-called ‘good’ safety culture is that in the absence of a sound occupational health and safety system, a culture is merely a discrete virtuous circle, achieving some safety successes based upon the behaviour and values of the different groups within the circle.  The shortcoming of such a scenario is that the success is based almost exclusively upon the behaviour and values, and subsequent actions of the individuals within the groups.  As those individuals move on either within the organisation, or on to other workplaces, the established culture, that is the practices of the organisation, will change as new people enter those roles.  The key to ensuring that the safety culture is maintained and improved is to ensure that it is embedded firmly within the safety management system of the organisation in question, if not in the entire industry (Hopkins, 2005). 
A best practice tool has been drafted to assist labour hire organisations navigate the often troubled waters of injury management and this is discussed in greater detail in the next update.
 
Works Cited
George. (2001). Labour Hire Task Force. Final Report. . Sydney. Australia.
Hopkins, A. (2005). Safety, Culture and Risk. The Organisatinal Causes of Disasters. Australia: CCH Australia.
WorkCover. (2001). Injury Management Guide for Labour Hire Agencies. Adelaide: WorkCover Corporation.

Part 2

 

Abstract
Conducting business in an ever changing world means that employers often seek the flexibility of hiring temporary staff in preference to committing to a longer term employment relationship.  Labour hire organisations who lease out, at a cost, to host employers staff for short term, menial or unpleasant tasks are often left in the situation that when those temporary staff are injured, the host employer cannot provide assistance with returning injured workers to a pre-injury state.  There are many reasons for these delays, and a compelling theme is the lack of suitable duties to be found with the pre-injury host employer of these staff. 
In this second part, the paper describes and discusses the use of a best practice tool can guide both labour hire organisation and host employer through the often troubled waters of injury management of injured labour hire workers with the aim of removing many of the impediments to rehabilitating those workers. 
It isn’t the intention of this tool to sit in a client folder, hidden away until something goes wrong and a temporary worker is injured.  It is intended for use immediately that a tender is won, or contracts of engagement are signed.  This tool encourages open dialogue between both labour hire organisation and host organisation at the outset of their business relationship, and continues to guide them through the rehabilitation process in the event that a temporary employee is injured.
 
In our previous article we discussed the problems facing the labour hire industry with regard to rehabilitating injured on hire workers and introduced concepts to improve return to work outcomes, including the use of a best practice tool. In this article we discuss the tool and provide a copy of it for use.

Discussion
The first and most obvious point to be made about the document is the opening statement that the document must be drawn up only by suitably qualified occupational health and safety and/or injury management personnel of the labour hire organisation in consultation with the host organisation (referred to in the document as an ‘agent’ and ‘host’ respectively for brevity).  It is inappropriate for untrained recruitment consultants or other employees of the labour hire organisation to complete these forms.  Given that the suitably trained labour hire organisation staff are the ones most likely to be carrying out the risk assessments, it is far more appropriate that they complete the forms.

The first part of page one captures the general details of the proposed placement, including a general statement about the duties.  This can be referred to later in the event that duties are altered by the host employer and changed if required. 

The expected duration of the placement is indicated as information for the safety staff of the labour hire organisation who may not ordinarily have this information readily available to them from the recruitment consultants. 

A job dictionary is a physical breakdown of the mechanics of a particular job.  It is in part a risk assessment of the manual handling aspects of the job, and provides valuable information that can be used to identify suitability of that job post injury.  However, a job dictionary does not remove the need to properly risk assess the proposed job because it does only address the manual handling aspects of that job. 

The remainder of Section 1 is intended to ensure adequate communication between the labour hire organisation and host employer, which was identified as one of the major shortcomings in the case studies presented earlier in the paper.

The last question of Section 1 is intended to encourage dialogue between labour hire organisation and host regarding potential alternative duties for labour hire workers in the event that they are injured whilst undertaking their placement with the host employer.  It is far more likely to save time if the host states baldly from the outset if they intend to participate in the rehabilitation and return to work process or not.  When legislation is enacted that requires host employers to participate in the rehabilitation and return to work of injured labour hire workers, the answer to this question will provide a guide as to whether or not there genuinely are appropriate duties available or not.

In the event of a labour hire worker being injured, the labour hire organisation can refer back to the form filled out prior to placement, and moves on to Section 2. 

There is a question early in Section 2 that asks for an opinion as to whether or not the treating doctor is an industrial doctor or not.  The reason for this is that while most of the larger labour hire organisations in South Australia have arrangements with their host employers to ensure injured labour hire workers are sent to industrial doctors, sometimes this information is forgotten, lost or discarded in the heat of the moment.  In research conducted by the author, a worker suffered a significantly delayed return to work for a variety of reasons, however the primary cause of the delay was an apparent lack of understanding on the part of the doctor as to the nature of the actual injury.  This doctor was not an industrial doctor, and could have had no way of knowing what questions to ask to ascertain the true nature of the injury.  This is not to say that a General Physician should not treat injured workers, and such an assertion would be absurd and unfair.  However, to give the best possible chance to prevent miscommunication, in the event that the doctor is not an industrial doctor, an early case conference involving the worker, the labour hire organisation Injury/Safety Manager and a representative of the host is recommended to provide adequate information to that doctor regarding the injury, the duties available with the host (if any) and any other information deemed appropriate at the time. 

As with Section 1, the remainder of Section 2 is in place to ensure adequate and appropriate communication takes place between the stakeholders to give injured labour hire workers the best possible chance to make a full, safe and sustainable return to work. 

The greatest weakness in such a proposal, however, is the lack of urgency and requirement. 
 
Conclusion
Research has shown that labour hire organisations struggle to rehabilitate their injured labour hire staff when those staff are injured whilst on hire with client host organisations.  Frequently host employers are under the impression that they are not required to participate in the rehabilitation process, or have no suitable duties for those staff members in the event that they do wish to participate. 
The South Australian Return to Work Corporation holds the belief that labour hire organisations are able to more easily than they actually are, as labour hire organisations are unlikely to insert unlegislated requirements in to tender and contract documents that compel host employers to participate in the rehabilitation process in the event that a temporary staff member is injured. 
It has been suggested by some researchers and commentators that legislative change is the most attractive means by which host employers can be compelled to participate in the rehabilitation process. 
Instead this author proposes that the use of a best practice tool, if adopted industry wide, would go a long way towards ensuring that host employers do participate in rehabilitation processes or, if this is impossible, it is flagged at the very beginning of the business relationship and other options can be considered. 
 

 
Works Cited
George. (2001). Labour Hire Task Force. Final Report. . Sydney. Australia.
Hopkins, A. (2005). Safety, Culture and Risk. The Organisatinal Causes of Disasters. Australia: CCH Australia.
WorkCover. (2001). Injury Management Guide for Labour Hire Agencies. Adelaide: WorkCover Corporation.

Disclaimer

Moore McPhee WHS Consultants specialise in the needs of small and medium businesses. We are here to help and can provide cost effective solutions for your business. Contact us on 1300 362 351, or speak directly to our Senior Principal Consultant Vanessa Moore on 0401 382 083 or at [email protected] for a confidential discussion about your particular work health and safety needs.

 

Any advice and information in this article is general in nature, does not take into account particular circumstances and should not be construed as professional advice. Unless specifically stated otherwise, the information in this article is prepared for South Australian Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking as defined in the SA Work Health and Safety Act 2012 only. The informationmay be applicable to other states of Australia that have adopted the harmonised work health andsafety legislation but is not guaranteed.

Innovation in Labour Hire Injury Management - A best practice tool