Safety Matters: Ouch That Hurt!
In 2010, Tom, who is married with two children, was trying to fix a jammed robotic palletiser, when he felt a click in his back and a sharp pain. “I had done this hundreds of times before over my 20 odd years working with the company but this time, when I went to pull out the pallet and straighten up, something gave.”
Some four years later, and after winning a workers’ compensation claim against the company’s insurers with the help of the AWU’s lawyers, Tom’s advice to others is to remember they have a family to go home to and “make sure you get there in one piece.”
At the time of the injury, Tom reported it straight away to his team leader. Sent to see the company doctor, Tom felt intimidated, with the doctor saying there was nothing wrong with his back, refusing Tom’s request for an MRI scan and organising some physiotherapy.
A frustrated Tom returned to normal duties, but in 2011 he collapsed on the factory floor in pain. Finally sent for an MRI, he was told he had disc damage to his lower back.
Put on light duties, Tom undertook gym classes – initially knocked back by the company – and eventually recovered enough to resume normal duties.
However, the injury struck again in 2012. This time Tom opted to go to his own GP, who ordered more scans and referred him to a specialist – none of which were approved under the company’s workers’ compensation scheme.
After six months, Tom was confronted at work by the human resources manager who gave him a letter telling him not to return to work unless he was fit.
It was then Tom turned to the AWU and on the advice of the Union’s workers’ comp solicitors, went ahead with the scans and specialist appointment. As a result, he was sent for physiotherapy that has worked well in improving his back. After six weeks on sick leave, Tom returned to work in November 2012 but still feels insecure and upset about what happened to him. He now knows that the company’s insurers hired a private investigator, who followed him for a year, to take photos when he took his daughter to school, drove his wife to work or did other activities.
As to safety at work and preventing injury, Tom says there is always a way to prevent injury but there are pressures at work to get the job done. “From my own experience I would say – ‘don’t be a hero as you will get nothing in return’.”