Slash workers' comp costs with pre-hire tests, but beware discrimination
Injury compensation costs employers an average $1100 per employee per year, but organisations can significantly reduce injuries - and hefty compo bills - with "inexpensive" pre-employment assessments and a "dedicated medical network", says occupational therapist Waqar Malik.
Manage risks and match workers to jobsMalik says that physical and functional assessments, which cost as little as $70 per candidate or employee, are an "easy to administer and inexpensive" way of ensuring people are "physically capable of managing job requirements".
"Effective screening will help employers recognise and manage workplace risks, and identify suitable tasks to match a worker's physical capabilities," he says.
"This will further help to prevent or minimise the impact of workplace injuries or musculoskeletal disorders and, where necessary, assist organisations to manage a worker's safe return to work from injury."
Malik says assessments that review a candidate's job-specific strength and endurance; manual handling and ergonomic proficiency; postural tolerance; and cardiovascular fitness are particularly important in blue-collar industries where workers' compensation costs tend to be "significantly higher" than the national average.
But even in more sedentary jobs, he says, where repetitive strain injuries and stress claims are on the rise, a basic functional assessment can help save money on recruitment, sick leave, overtime and insurance premiums.
Functional assessors are starting to "take a lot of work from GPs", whose assessments are often cursory and rarely tailored to specific tasks, Malik notes.
"There are medicals, and then there are medicals," he says.
Take steps to avoid discrimination claimsAccording to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, many employers routinely use pre-employment functional assessments as part of their selection processes, but they must take steps to ensure they aren't exposed to discrimination claims.
In a recent South Australian case, for instance, a candidate whose job application was rejected because he failed a functional assessment was awarded $29,000 in damages after the Equal Opportunity Tribunal found, among other things, that the assessment was poorly designed. (See related article.)
"Where it is necessary to test for specific attributes it is best to only test people who meet all the other requirements of the job," the Anti-Discrimination Board advises.
"This is not a legal requirement but it is more cost effective and protects employers from allegations of discrimination on the ground of disability."
In more physical jobs, regular medical testing might be needed to ensure employees continue to meet requirements and aren't at risk of injury, the Board says, but "it is important that all employees in this type of job are tested and that age is not a factor in determining who is tested".
Employers could also be liable for discrimination if they:
The main features of a non-discriminatory medical test, the Board says, are:
Injury prevention guidesProactive injury-prevention strategies are also critical in reducing workers' compensation costs.
Commonwealth OHS agency Comcare publishes guides on injury prevention and building a case to invest in OHS and organisational health.
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