I hurt my back at work what should I do?
Work related back injuries are very common.
In Victoria, recent WorkSafe Victoria data shows that around 15% of all injuries suffered at work are to the back.
Here are your options if you suffer a back injury at work.
Table of Contents
Get medical treatment
This is pretty obvious. If you need medical treatment following a back injury, ensure to get it.
A good first step in obtaining medical treatment is to speak to your GP.
If someone such as your employer or someone connected to the employer suggests that you should see a doctor of their choosing, you do not need to do so.
We recommend people see their own GP as the first port of call for treatment.
The GP may refer you off to another medical practitioner for treatment. This may for example be to a physio, an osteopath or a chiropractor.
Or if they think your back injury is significant, they may order imaging such as am MRI scan, and/or provide you with a referral to see a specialist doctor such as an orthopeadic surgeon.
What happens with the payment of my medical expenses?
If you do not have a WorkCover claim accepted for your back injury (more on this later), then you will need to pay for the medical treatment yourself.
If you have mentioned your back injury to your employer (more on this later as well), then it is possible that they may offer to pay for some of your treatment. Although, this is not normally how things work.
Should I mention to the people that treat me how my back injury occurred?
It is a good idea to mention to the medical practiioners that treat you how your back injury occurred.
This article goes into more detail about that.
In a nutshell however, it’s a good idea for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, when your medical practitioners are aware as to the background of your back injury (how it happened) it may help them understand your injury better. This can result in better treatment.
It can also help them understand what restrictions, if any, you may need at work.
It may help them understand for example that part of your job involves a certain task that involves heavy or repetitive lifting. And they may say that you need to avoid this task for a period of time, or perform it in a modified way, to ensure your back can recover and not be aggravated.
Also, another point is if you wish to lodge a WorkCover claim either in the short-term or down the track, medical support from your medical practitioners will likely be important.
So the medical practitioners that you see may be asked to provide medical reports addressing the nature of your back injury and how it occurred.
This is obviously made more difficult if you don’t tell them how it occurred.
If there is a dispute down the track as to how the injury occurred with WorkCover, then the notes of the medical practiioner may be important (notes that a medical practitioner makes after a consultation with you).
What if I need time off work following my back injury?
You’ll need to work with the medical practitioners that are treating you in this regard.
Your doctor may say that you need to abide by restrictions in terms of work.
For example, that you should avoid heavy lifting for a couple of weeks.
He or she may suggest that you cut your work hours for a little while to enable you to recover.
Or they may suggest that you go off work completely for awhile.
If you do not have a WorkCover claim
….and you are required to go off work either on a partial basis or completely off work for a period of time, then one option is for you to use your sick leave entitlement if you have enough to cover the period of time off work.
(Obviously this doesn’t apply if you are a casual worker. If you are a casual worker, then we recommend you read this page).
You can also use your annual leave and long service leave as well.
However, it is our general position that you should not use your annual leave or long service leave entitlements if you need time off work for a work related back injury.
This is because these entitlements should be available to you when you need to use them for other things – not for work related injuries.
If you only need a day or two off, then fine. But anything more than that – we don’t recommend using your accrued annual or long service leave.
If you do have a WorkCover claim
….then you are entitled to the payment of weekly payments if your ability to work is impacted as a result of your back injury.
You can read about WorkCover claims and weekly payments in detail here.
And this page will assist you if your claim has just been accepted.
In general, if you suffer a back injury and your ability to work is impacted and you have a WorkCover claim which has been accepted, you’re entitled to be paid at the rate of 95% of your pre injury average weekly earnings for the first 13 weeks that you’re off work and thereafter at 80% up until 130 weeks.
You can get payments in additional 130 weeks if on medical grounds you have no work capacity which is likely to continue indefinitely.
Payments are based on your pre-injury average weekly earnings. You can read about PIAWE here.
Pre injury average weekly earnings or your PIAWE is an average of your earnings taken over the 12 months prior to the injury.
If you were not employed with this employer for 12 months prior to the injury then the averages taken over the period that you were employed.
For example if you’re only employed there for four months and it’s your average earnings over the four month period.
Some people are paid overtime on shift allowance when they work.
If this is the case then any overtime on shift allowance that you did work Take into account in the calculation for the first 52 weeks. There after it is not.
In order to obtain weekly payments, you will need certificates of capacity relating to your back injury.
Work restrictions for back pain and injury
Whether you have a WorkCover claim or not, if you have ongoing back pain you should speak to your doctor or other heath care professional and discuss what type of work is appropriate for you to do.
If the doctor suggests work restrictions, they should list these in a certificate of capacity, return to work plan or other document which should be provided to your employer.
Here’s some examples of work restrictions for low back pain that your doctor might suggest:
- Limit lifting to a particular weight
- Limit or avoid bending
- Limit or avoid repetitive lifting
- Reduction in work hours.
Should I report my back injury to my employer?
Yes, ideally if you suffer a back injury and it’s work-related you should tell your employer.
You can tell a manager or supervisor.
It is important to do so if there is the risk of further injury to yourself or any other workers. If something needs to be fixed or altered, your employer needs to know.
Ideally, you should also record the back injury in the injury register book (or whatever system your employer has in place for according injuries).
You should mention your back injury to your employer as soon as possible after it occurred.
We understand however that many people are hesitant to report work related injuries to employers for fear of jeopardising their jobs.
You might read material online that tells you that you shouldn’t be afraid of reporting an injury because you’re protected by law.
That is, that your job can’t be jeopardised because you suffered injury at work.
However in the real world, the reality is that in some instances employers will treat an employee differently who has an injury at work and who has reported it.
And even if an employee does report and injury and their job is impacted because of the fact that they mentioned it to their employer, it can be very difficult from a legal perspective to address this.
And so for this reason we understand why some people are hesitant to report the injury to the employer.
The bottom line is this.
Ideally, you should report an injury to the employer as soon as possible.
Not only for the purposes of looking after yourself, but also because you want to ensure that your colleagues are safe at work this is particularly relevant if you work in a job that requires manual handling.
However, if you are completely against mentioning your back injury to your employer, then you should at the very minimum ensure to mention the injury to any medical practitioners that are treating you.
That way it is at least recorded somewhere, should you need to rely on it in the future.
If you intend to lodge a WorkCover claim, the WorkCover laws in Victoria say that your back inury should be recorded with your employer within 30 days of it occurring.
If you do not do so, your claim may be rejected.
If your claim has been rejected and you’re not sure what your options are, this page should assist.
The reality however is that although the WorkCover laws in Victoria do say that you should report an injury within 30 days of it occurring the reality is that many WorkCover claims that haven’t been recorded within 30 days – or at all – are accepted.
The main thing is that there your injury has been recorded somewhere.
Should I lodge a WorkCover claim after a back injury?
WorkCover claim isn’t the answer all the time.
However, it can be of great assistance if you believe that because of the back injury you’ll need some time off work and/or medical treatment.
If you believe (based on discussions with medical practitioners), but your injury is very likely to be short-term where you might not need any medical treatment and might not need any time off work then you need to ask yourself whether you want to go through the WorkCover process potentially for little gain at this point in time.
Keep in mind that you can always lodge a WorkCover claim down the track when you have some more clarity regarding your treatment needs and what impact your injury will have on your employment.
A WorkCover claim can pay for medical expenses and income replacement benefits if your ability to work is impacted.
If you don’t need either of these things at the moment but you’re not sure how your injury is going to progress, then you could give consideration of lodging a claim now even if you don’t utilise it.
As an alternative, if you’re not sure, you can make sure that you’re back injuries reported (or at least mentioned to medical practitioners) and then lodge a WorkCover claim down the track when you’ve made your mind up.
The bottom line is that when deciding to lodge a WorkCover claim for a work related back injury, you need to be clear on what benefits a WorkCover claim can give you.
So in addition to the medical and like expenses and weekly payments referred to above, there are two lump sum claims that you may be able to pursue under the WorkCover scheme.
One of those is an impairment benefit and the other is a common law claim for damages.
In relation to both lump sum claims, in order to succeed in them you will need to have permanent impairment of your back as a consequence of the work related incident.
Order to pursue a common law claim, you need to prove that the injury was caused by someone else’s negligence.
If you want to get an idea as to what compensation amounts are typically paid for back injuries, you can do so here.
What impact will a WorkCover claim have on my employment?
You also need to consider what impact a WorkCover claim may have on your current employment and what impact a WorkCover claim may have on future employment.
We suggest reading this page.
Back injuries are common at workplaces in Victoria.
If you’ve suffered one, get the treatment you need. If you don’t have a WorkCover claim, you can pay for the treatment yourself or in limited cases your employer may offer to do so.
You should mention your injury to your employer, and make a note of it in the injury register book (or whatever system your employer has for documenting injuries).
However, it’s understandable that many people don’t want to mention their injury to an employer because they don’t want to impact their employment.
If this applies to you, at a minimum make sure that you tell your medical practitioners how the injury occurred. This helps ensure that you get the treatment you need, as well as ensuring that any appropriate work restrictions can be discussed.
Also, if you intend to lodge a WorkCover claim, your medical practitioners will be able to provide medical reports with a knowledge of how the injury happened.
You need to consider whether you want to lodge a WorkCover claim. If you are thinking about doing so, you should know what a WorkCover claim can actually do for you and what you may be entitled to.