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10.7.4 Ergonomic equipment, workplace aids and appliances and workplace assessments
DVA can only pay for a workplace assessment and any required aids/appliances for a person, if the reason for the assessment is related to the person’s accepted condition/s or to the ongoing effects or natural progression of the condition/s. The following flowchart provides a general overview of how requests for workplace assessments should be considered and the instances in which DVA, or the injured person’s employer, is responsible for paying for the assessment and any recommended aids/appliances. Please refer to the more detailed guidelines that follow for further information about the issues that need to be considered at each step.
Workplace aids and appliances, including ergonomic equipment, can be important in assisting a person to achieve their vocational rehabilitation goals, and to be able to function effectively in a workplace or a home setting while managing the impact of their service related accepted conditions. For specific information about workplace alterations, please refer to section 2 Workplace alterations under the rehabilitation provisions.
1. Workplace aids or appliances through RAP
As a general rule, ergonomic equipment to be used in a workplace cannot be provided through the Rehabilitation Appliances Program (RAP). However, the RAP National Schedule of Equipment does include some ergonomic stools and chairs to enable a client to sit at an appropriate height, or to more easily transfer between sitting and standing. If a request for this type of equipment is received, the DVA Rehabilitation Coordinators must therefore check the item can be provided through RAP.
The RAP Schedule does not include ergonomic desks, and specialised office equipment such as a modified computer keyboard or mouse, document holder, etc. These aids and appliances must therefore be considered and provided through SRCA section 39 or MRCA section 56.
2. Workplace aids or appliances under the rehabilitation provisions
DVA may provide funding to a client for a workplace assessment, and for any workplace aids or appliances (including ergonomic equipment) that are recommended in that assessment, in the following circumstances:
- if the need is directly linked to the client’s service related injury or condition(s); and
- the item is considered to have a therapeutic effect; or
- where the provision of this type of equipment is seen as an injury management tool to prevent exacerbation of an injury or disease; and
- the ergonomic equipment is required to assist a person to reach a rehabilitation goal.
As with all requests for aids and appliances, when considering approval for such an item a request will need to:
- result directly from the compensable injury; and
- be prescribed by a suitably qualified medical or allied health professional, such as an OT, based on a thorough assessment; and
- include specific technical features which will help address ergonomic or therapeutic needs (eg. adjustable height, seat angles for chairs); and
- be cost effective, in terms of other options that may be available to achieve the same outcomes.
Before any workplace aids or appliances can be provided, there must be evidence that the employer has considered their responsibilities under work health and safety legislation. Please refer to section 3 Employer and employee responsibilities under work health and safety legislation for further guidance.
A workplace/home office assessment must be undertaken by an appropriately qualified assessor, such as an Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist, to make recommendations for workplace aids, appliances and/or job redesign to accommodate an injured worker’s return to work and/or promote a safe work environment. This assessment is required to provide evidence for a determination about whether aids and appliances are reasonably required due to the client’s accepted conditions.
Workplace alterations under the rehabilitation provisions
Alterations to a client’s workplace may be required to enable the client freedom of access and egress, and allow the safe use of facilities within the place work. For example, doorways may need to be modified to allow wheelchair access. Before any workplace alterations can be provided, there must be evidence that the employer has considered their responsibilities under work health and safety legislation and anti-discrimination legislation. Please refer to section 3 Employer and employee responsibilities under work health and safety legislation for further guidance.
As with all requests for alterations, evidence would need to be provided in a thorough workplace assessment by a suitably qualified health professional, about the client’s need for the alteration and how it links to the client’s accepted condition/s. Please refer to section 10.7.8 of the Rehabilitation Policy Library for further information about the approval process for building alterations and all the issues that need to be considered. Before any workplace alterations are approved, delegates must contact the rehabilitation policy section for advice via firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is expected that assistance with workplace alterations would not be commonly requested. It is however, important to recognise that this assistance can have a big impact on a client’s ability to engage in employment. It is also important to manage client’s expectations about how often workplace alterations may be made, if the person moves jobs frequently. Where DVA has previously funded workplace modifications, it is expected that clients will factor in the suitability of a workplace in relation to their accepted condition/s when considering their employment options. It would be expected that a discussion is had with a prospective employer about any access and egress issues, before the person is employed.
Providing ergonomic equipment in the home
Ergonomic office equipment such as an ergonomic office chair, ergonomic desk or specialised computer equipment can only be provided for home use in very limited and specific circumstances. This would be limited to situations, where for example, DVA is supporting a client to undertake study as part of a vocational rehabilitation plan. In this case, there needs to be clear evidence that the ergonomic equipment is clinically required to assist the person to reach their identified rehabilitation goal as part of their approved vocational rehabilitation plan.
A home office assessment must be undertaken by an appropriately qualified assessor to provide justification about why the equipment is reasonably required to assist the person to undertake their approved rehabilitation program. Please refer to section 5 Workplace assessment reports for further information about what these reports should contain. If the workplace assessment provides evidence that there is a clinical need for the aid/appliance to assist the client to manage their accepted condition/s, these can be provided under the client’s rehabilitation plan. Please refer to section 6 Approving or declining workplace aids/appliances for further guidelines about how to provide the aid/appliance.
It is not considered reasonable, for a person to be provided with ergonomic office equipment to undertake personal tasks, such as managing home finances, conducting on-line shopping, or writing correspondence. In this context, any office equipment is essentially furniture for the client’s home.
Participation in a work trial or the Employer Incentive Scheme
It is expected that, as a general rule, where a client has been participating in a work trial or the Employer Incentive Scheme as part of a vocational rehabilitation program, a workplace assessment will have been conducted as part of ensuring that the client has a safe working environment on commencing employment, given their accepted conditions and medical restrictions. Workplace aids or appliances would then be provided through the client’s vocational rehabilitation plan prior to the client commencing their employment. Further information about Worksite Assessments in these circumstances can be found in section 9.7 of the Rehabilitation Policy Guide.
3. Employer and employee responsibilities under work health and safety legislation
Under Commonwealth, state and territory work health and safety legislation, an employee has a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety while at work, and to ensure that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.
Conversely, employers are obliged to provide a safe working environment to ensure the health and safety of workers in the workplace by providing:
- a safe premises;
- safe machinery and materials;
- safe systems of work;
- information, instruction, training and supervision; and
- a suitable working environment and facilities.
Note: Each state and territory has responsibility for regulating and enforcing work health and safety laws in their jurisdiction. If an employee or employer would like information about their obligations under their relevant legislation, you can refer them to Work Safe Australia, the body responsible for improving workers compensation nationwide. The Work Safe Australia website has a range of information including links to information specific to each state and territory.
If an employee is experiencing difficulties in the workplace that hinder their ability to work safely, they are obliged under the legislation to inform their employer for both their own safety, and the safety of their colleagues. In turn, their employer is obliged to investigate the employee’s concerns and provide the employee with the necessary assistance to resolve their difficulties to allow the employee to work in a safe environment.
In addition to work health and safety legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments so that a person with a disability or injury is able to perform the inherent requirements of a job. The concept of reasonable adjustments reflects the understanding that a worker with an injury, ill health or disability can often perform tasks if adjustments are made to accommodate the effects of their injury, ill health or disability.
Reasonable adjustments may include, but are not limited to, modifications to a worksite, the provision of extra training, technological assistance like speech recognition software and adjusting work arrangements such as allowing part time work or working from home arrangements. What is considered a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is dependent on individual circumstances but the adjustments must not cause ‘unjustifiable hardship’ for the employer.
4. Investigating requests for ergonomic aids and appliances in the workplace
The guidelines that follow provide information to guide decision making in instances where a client has been in the workforce for some time and has started to experience difficulties in managing their work duties. In some cases, a client may have secured their employment through a vocational rehabilitation plan at some time in the past, and is now starting to experience difficulties in managing the demands of their job. However, in others the client may not have received any rehabilitation assistance at all from DVA. In each of these scenarios, the same steps must be followed.
Clients must communicate with their employer as a first step
When a DVA client with an accepted condition/s approaches DVA for assistance with workplace aids and appliances, it is imperative that the client has discussed their concerns with their employer. The client as an employee is obliged to do so under work health and safety legislation and their employer is obliged to both provide a safe working environment and reasonable adjustments to accommodate their employee’s disability or injury. Therefore, if a client approaches DVA for assistance and they have not approached their employer, the client must be advised to discuss their workplace concerns with their employer as a first step.
In most cases, it is expected that the employer will be able to provide the requested assistance or reasonable adjustments as part of their work health and safety responsibilities. However, if evidence is provided that the employer absolutely refuses or is unable to assist the client to resolve their workplace concerns, then DVA may need to consider organising a workplace assessment to determine whether aids or appliances are reasonably required. This is particularly important where a client’s job is in jeopardy or their health is being significantly compromised due to the lack of assistance being provided by their employer.
What type of evidence is required from an employer?
It is important that there is some evidence that the client has discussed their concerns with their employer, and the employer has refused to provide appropriate assistance. For example, a client may provide an email from their employer which states that the employer will not assist the client as they believe that the employee requires workplace aids and appliances due to their service related injury, and that DVA is responsible for the client’s injury. RehaA note should be added to the Employee Notes section of Defcare, detailing the evidence that was provided.
When might an employee need a workplace assessment funded by DVA?
DVA will only consider providing funding for a workplace assessment (and any recommended aids/appliances) if the reason for the assessment is related to the person’s accepted condition/s or to the ongoing effects or natural progression of the condition/s. Delegates must therefore carefully consider the request and the client’s accepted condition/s and seek the advice of a suitably qualified Departmental Advisor (eg. an OT Adviser) when considering whether the client’s issues in the workplace might be related to their accepted condition/s. Please refer to the table below for further guidance about consulting with Advisors.
In order for DVA to consider providing funding for a workplace assessment, the delegate must first confirm that the client has discussed their concerns with their employer. If a discussion has taken place with the employer and evidence has been provided that the employer is refusing or is unable to assist, then DVA can consider making a referral to an Occupational Therapist or other suitably qualified health professional with appropriate skills and experience, for a workplace assessment.
Steps for considering requests for workplace assessments and aids, appliances and alterations
The following table provides an overview of how requests for funding workplace assessments should be considered and the instances in which DVA, or the injured person’s employer, is responsible for paying for a workplace assessment and any recommended aids, appliances or alterations.
Each case must be considered on its merits. Please contact email@example.com if you believe you have a case that falls outside the circumstances outlined in the table.
1. Does the person have an impairment as a result of a service injury or disease, for which DVA has accepted liability?
Yes - go to step 2
No- the aid or appliance cannot be considered.
2. Has the employee had a discussion with their employer about the issues they are experiencing in the workplace and the employers obligation to provide a safe working environment and make any reasonable adjustments?
Yes –The employee has had a discussion with their employer about the employer’s obligations under work health and safety legislation and the employer absolutely refuses to assist the client. Evidence of the employer’s refusal must be provided to DVA by the employee with a note in Defcare and the evidence saved to TRIM. This evidence could be, for example, an email from the employer explaining they do not believe the issue is theirs to resolve. Go to question 3.
No – The employee should be advised that they are obliged under work health and safety legislation to discuss their concerns with their employer and that their employer is obligated under work health and safety legislation, to provide them with a safe working environment and make any reasonable adjustments to the employee’s job requirements. If evidence is not provided that the employee has discussed their workplace concerns with their employer and the employer refuses to assist, DVA is unable to consider providing assistance.
3. Does the reason the employee is requesting assistance in the workplace appear to relate to the employee’s accepted condition/s? For example, the employee may have an accepted knee condition and is experiencing knee pain at work while sitting at their desk. Making a judgement about whether the client’s issues in the workplace may relate to their accepted condition must be done in consultation with an appropriately qualified Departmental Advisor.*
Yes – go to question 4.
No – The employee’s issues in the workplace are not related to their accepted conditions e.g. experiencing neck pain at work but they have an accepted ankle sprain condition. The aid or appliance cannot be considered by DVA (if you are not sure whether the request for the workplace assessment relates to the employee’s accepted condition/s, please seek guidance from an appropriately qualified Departmental Adviser*).
4. Is the accepted condition/s one that should have resolved, taking into account the time that has passed since the date of injury? Medical evidence is required to validate a judgement about whether the condition should have resolved. If there is medical evidence on the client’s file, or the client is able to provide additional medical information, this should be reviewed in consultation with a Departmental Advisor.*
Yes – If the medical evidence on file or provided by the client shows that the client’s condition/s is one that should have resolved, but the client is experiencing issues that appear related to their accepted condition/s, further medical evidence will need to be obtained before DVA can consider providing assistance. If further medical evidence is required, the client should be advised to see their GP or specialist (if appropriate) to discuss their issues in the workplace and whether these issues may be related to their accepted condition/s.
Go to step 6.
No – If the medical evidence on file or provided by the client shows that the client’s condition/s is one that is likely to persist, DVA can consider providing funding for a workplace assessment (and any aids/appliances recommended in the assessment) to be undertaken by an appropriately qualified workplace assessor, like an OT. If there is no medical evidence available, the client should be advised to see their GP or specialist (if appropriate) to discuss their issues in the workplace and whether these issues may be related to their accepted condition/s.
It is important when organising this workplace assessment that the OT undertaking the assessment is advised that any aids/appliances they recommend, must be supported by clinical evidence that the client requires the aid, appliance or alteration to manage their condition in the workplace. Further information about workplace assessment reports can be found later in this section.
Go to step 5 for information about providing aids/appliances recommended in the assessment.
5. The workplace assessment provides evidence that there is a clinical need for the aid, appliance or alteration to assist the client to manage their accepted condition/s. If the workplace assessor is not in a position to provide evidence about a clinical need, then an opinion must be sought from an appropriately qualified Departmental Advisor*. Further information about how to provide recommended aids, appliances or alterations can be found later in this section.
If the workplace assessment identifies any other issues that do not relate to accepted condition/s, the employer is responsible for addressing all aspects of these issues. In this situation DVA will be responsible for the funding for the workplace assessment i.e. there is no requirement for the employer to contribute even if all the recommendations do not relate to the client’s accepted condition/s.
To manage expectations, it is important that the employer is advised prior to the assessment, that any recommended aids, appliances or alterations that do not relate to the person’s accepted DVA condition, will need to be provided by the employer. This will avoid the employer assuming that because DVA is paying for the workplace assessment, DVA is responsible for all the aids/appliances that are recommended. Section 10.8.5 of this guide provides some helpful information for clients if the client’s is facing barriers in their discussions with their employer.
6. Does the medical report conclude that the employee’s workplace issues are most likely caused by their accepted condition/s?
Yes –There is evidence that the employee’s workplace issues are most likely caused by their accepted condition/s so DVA can consider providing funding for a workplace assessment (and any aids, appliances or alterations recommended in the assessment). Further information about workplace assessment reports can be found later in this section.
No – The employee’s workplace issues are most likely not caused by their accepted condition/s so the employer is responsible for the workplace assessment and any recommended aids, appliances or alterations.
In the event that the employer is unable or unwilling to assist following the information provided in the GP report, the employee should be advised of the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) who may be able to assist if they are eligible. Further information about the EAF can be found later in this section.
Some of them – Some of the employee’s workplace issues are most likely caused by their accepted condition/s so DVA is responsible for providing funding for the workplace assessment but will only provide recommended aids, appliances or alterations relating to the employee’s accepted condition/s. For DVA to provide any recommended aids/appliances, there must be clinical evidence from a suitably qualified health professional, that the employee requires the aid, appliance or alteration to manage their accepted condition/s.
The employer would be responsible for paying for any aids, appliances or alterations not related to the employee’s accepted condition/s. In the event that the employer is unable or unwilling to assist following the information provided in the GP report, the employee should be advised of the EAF who may be able to assist if they are eligible. Further information about the EAF can be found later in this section.
*Note – the full list of Departmental Advisers can be found on the Rehabilitation pages of the Rehabilitation and Compensation Support site under ‘Advisor Work Order information’.
5. Workplace assessment reports
High quality reports
It is important that an OT or other suitably qualified health professional who is experienced in undertaking workplace assessments is engaged. An experienced allied health professional would be expected to provide a high quality workplace assessment report which considers all options available to the employee, to manage their workplace issues. It is important that the report does not automatically recommend the most expensive solution for the client and information should be provided that other appropriate options have been considered. The report must clearly identify that the recommended workplace aids and appliances are required due to a clinical need related to the client’s service related condition(s). It is essential that the Rehabilitation Coordinator’s expectations are clearly explained in the referral for the workplace assessment.
If a Rehabilitation Coordinator is concerned about the quality of a workplace assessment report that they have received, they should discuss the report with one of the Department’s Health Advisors. Contact details for advisors can be found on the Rehabilitation and Compensation Support site under the ‘Adviser Work Order information’ folder.
Paying for the workplace assessment
An in-house plan should be opened to pay for the workplace assessment report. An in-house plan means that instead of referring the client to a rehabilitation provider, the plan is managed by the DVA Rehabilitation Coordinator. An in-house plan is a simple administrative mechanism through Defcare which enables the cost for the workplace assessment to be approved and paid against the “plan”. There is no formal/hard-copy rehabilitation plan determined under SRCA s37 or MRCA s51, with identified rehabilitation goals and activities.
6. Approving or declining workplace aids/appliances
The RAP National Schedule of Equipment does not currently include ergonomic equipment to assist a person to manage their accepted conditions in a workplace. Therefore, where aids and appliances such as ergonomic chairs, ergonomic desks, specialised office equipment such as modified computer keyboards, document holders, foot rests etc, are recommended these must be considered and provided under section 39 of the SRCA or section 56 of the MRCA.
It is a requirement that before aids and appliances can be provided, the client must have undertaken a rehabilitation assessment under MRCA section 44 or SRCA section 37. Where a client is employed and the workplace assessment does not identify any other rehabilitation needs, then the workplace assessment can be regarded as an assessment of the person’s capacity (and therefore their need for) rehabilitation. The referral to a suitably qualified health professional for a workplace assessment can, in this context only, be taken as a referral for a rehabilitation assessment. A letter should be sent to the client informing them that the referral has been made, for the purposes of determining whether a workplace aid or appliance is reasonably required, because of their service injury or disease.
This is a pragmatic approach, to address the unique needs of clients whose jobs may be in jeopardy because of their need for workplace aids and appliances that their employer is not willing to provide. This approach means that if the client is not currently or has never been on a rehabilitation plan, and has never undertaken a rehabilitation assessment, and the Rehabilitation Coordinator is confident that the employee has no rehabilitation needs other than assistance in the workplace, then the aids/appliances can be provided without the need for a further whole-of-person assessment.
In these cases, the in-house plan that was opened to pay for the workplace assessment can be utilised to pay for the aids/appliances that are recommended for helping the client to self-manage their accepted condition/s.
If, after reviewing the workplace assessment report and/or discussing the case with a Departmental Advisor, the Rehabilitation Coordinator believes that the client may have other rehabilitation needs, the client must be referred to a rehabilitation provider for a whole-of-person rehabilitation assessment.
Determination to provide aids/appliances
A determination to approve or decline funding for aids/appliances under section 56 of MRCA or 39 of SRCA must be provided to the client. The determination letter needs to explain that all the points under either section 58 of MRCA or section 39 of SRCA have been considered. The letter must therefore provide reasons for the determination with reference to the following issues relevant to the person’s circumstances:
(a) the likely period during which the workplace aid or appliance will be required;
(b) any difficulties faced by the person in gaining access to, or enjoying freedom of movement in, his or her place of work;
(c) whether arrangements can be made for hiring the workplace aid or appliance; and
(d) for MRCA clients, if the person is a Permanent Forces member or a continuous full-time Reservist, whether provision of the workplace aid or appliance is likely to increase the length of time that the person can continue to serve in their ADF role.
DVA delegates must refer to and utilise the guidelines in section 10.8 of the Rehabilitation Policy Guide when considering requests for aids and appliances for serving ADF members.
This formal determination is a reviewable decision and the client must be provided with their rights of review under MRCA section 347 or SRCA section 62. Factsheet MRC27 Reconsideration and Review of Decisions must be enclosed with the determination letter.
7. Working from home arrangements
If DVA accepts a person’s claim for workplace aids/appliances to be provided, DVA is only responsible for providing workplace aids/appliances in one work setting. This means that if the client and their employer have negotiated special working arrangements, such as the client working from home for part of the week, then the employer is responsible for ensuring that the second workplace is safe and suitable for the client. This means that they would be responsible for funding of any additional equipment, including ergonomic furniture, to meet their work health and safety obligations
8. Ownership and repair of workplace aids/appliances
Please refer to section 10.4 of the Rehabilitation Policy Guide for information about ownership of any aids/appliances provided under the rehabilitation provisions.
9. No connection between employee’s workplace difficulties and accepted DVA condition/s
DVA can only consider providing funding for a workplace assessment and any required aids/appliances for a person, if:
- the person’s employer absolutely refuses to assist;
- the person’s DVA accepted condition is affecting their ability to work safely;
- without assistance the person’s employment could be compromised; and
- a workplace assessment provides evidence that the person requires assistance (aids/appliances) to manage their conditions in the workplace.
If there is no connection between the issues in the workplace and the employee’s accepted condition/s, DVA is unable to assist and the employee will need to seek a resolution with their employer.
Employee Assistance Fund (EAF)
Employees who are not able to receive assistance from DVA should be advised of the EAF. The EAF is an Australian Government program that provides financial assistance to a person with disability or their employer for workplace modifications, equipment and services they require as a result of their disability and are necessary for them to be able to perform their employment duties. To be eligible for assistance the person will need to meet the eligibility criteria which are outlined in the EAF Guidelines. Information about how to apply for the EAF can be found on the EAF website.
A person is not eligible for assistance through the EAF if they are entitled to assistance with their disability from another Australian Government source or state, territory or local government body. Therefore, if the employee decides to apply for the EAF they may need to provide evidence in their application, that their condition is not service related and they are not entitled to receive assistance from DVA. In this situation, any documentation relating to the decision that the employee’s workplace issues are related to their accepted condition/s, should be provided to the client so they are able to use it if required.
Safe Work Australia
Safe Work Australia was established to lead the development of policy to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia. While each individual state and territory has responsibility for regulating and enforcing work health and safety laws in their jurisdiction, there is useful information on the Safe Work Australia website including links to information specific to each state and territory.
If a client is not eligible for assistance from DVA and is facing barriers in their discussions with their employer, they should be advised to contact the relevant organisation in their state for assistance.