Aggravation of a pre-existing injury

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Can an employer be liable for aggravation of a pre-existing injury? YES

If a worker has a pre-existing injury (eg knee injury from weekend) and they then aggravate this further in the workplace the employer can be liable!!

Regardless of where the injury was sustained, all workers are required to be FIT FOR WORK.  Fit for work means able to carry out their normal duties without an injury impeding their work.

Example – A boilermaker injures his knee on the weekend playing footy, he arrives to work on the Monday to carry out his normal duties as a boilermaker which requires lots of bending, lifting, walking, standing on his feet all day, etc.   The worker then does further injury to his knee in the workplace.   Now the employer is liable for that injury as it is classed as at ‘’aggravation of a pre-existing condition”.   How does the employer avoid this?  Depending on the employer’s policies there is a few ways to handle this.

  1. Ask the worker to obtain a medical certificate stating what their restrictions are based on the injury sustained. If the workplace is able to meet these restrictions, then document a suitable duties plan and ensure all involved are aware of this and its continually managed.
  2. Ask the worker to obtain a medical certificate and if they are unable to perform their ‘Normal Duties’ then the worker is asked to take leave (sick or annual if available). The worker would not be able to return to their normal duties until a full clearance is obtained.

So you might ask, what is classed as a workplace injury?

An injury is ‘a personal injury arising out of, or in the course of, employment if the employment is a significant contributing factor to the injury.’

Injuries can happen at work, travelling to and from work or while on a break from work. Injuries can also take place if you are travelling for work, or visiting other workplaces or sites for the purposes of your job.

Examples of different types of injuries: :

  • physical injuries—such as lacerations, fractures, burns, industrial deafness
  • psychiatric or psychological disorders — such as anxiety or depression
  • diseases—such as asbestosis or Q-fever
  • aggravation of a pre-existing condition
  • death from an injury or disease.

Workers may be covered while working from home depending on the circumstances and will be assessed on each individual case.

Benefits to the worker of a rehabilitation program

When a worker sustains an injury, for some, it can be worst time of their life.  They can be no longer capable of working, worried about their future employment, worried how they will provide for their families and the list goes on.   In some cases, they also think that just because they are injured they can sit at home for weeks/months until they recover.   Statistics show this is not helpful in the recovery of an injured worker (physically and mentally) and that providing a great rehabilitation program helps significantly in getting them back to their pre-injury duties.

Benefits to the worker, by participation and commitment means:

  • return to work quickly and safely
  • less disruption to family, work and social life
  • improved employment and financial security
  • less time spent recovering from your injury
  • reduced level of impairment.

Statistics show that work plays an important role in any rehabilitation process because ‘doing’ promotes recovery. If a person is off work for:

  • 20 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 70 per cent
  • 45 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 50 per cent
  • 70 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 35 per cent.

Benefits to the employer of a rehabilitation program

There are benefits for early return to work for employers too; employer participation in rehabilitation (either through a rehabilitation return to work coordinator or another person) can:

  • reduce disruption impacting productivity
  • reduce staff turnover
  • improve staff morale and workplace industrial relations
  • minimise retraining expenses
  • reduce claims costs and impact on premium
  • help a worker’s return to the workplace.

 Support and benefits:

WorkCover (relevant state insurer or self-insurer) also support a worker in what can be a difficult and emotional journey recovering from a work-related injury. They may provide:

  • Weekly compensation
  • Medical, surgical and hospital expenses and medicines
  • Rehabilitation Treatment and Equipment or Services
  • Travelling Expenses
  • Death Benefits and Funeral Expenses

If you would like to know more, or need assistance within your business please contact Cheryl on 0413 917722 or

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