Ageing and mental health are two emerging areas of concern for workers' compensation systems, but there is a lack of data about how these factors impact on Return to Work (RTW). This research project will fill these knowledge gaps.

WorkSafe identified the challenge associated with an ageing workforce in its five-year strategy document, WorkSafe 2017, alongside the challenge presented by increasing mental health condition diagnoses.

Research into these interconnected areas commenced in 2012, led by Associate Professor Peter Smith from Monash's School of Public Health & Preventive Medicine in collaboration with researchers from Deakin University.

This research will identify how the rate of RTW among ageing workers is influenced by a variety of factors such as recovery expectations, offers of work accommodation, physician interactions with the worker and the workplace, social support, and autonomy over work. This knowledge will then be used to inform the development of new RTW policies and practices to help address the changing spectrum of compensation claimants in Victoria and Australia.

The research is supported by WorkSafe, Safe Work Australia, The Australian Human Rights Commission,Beyond Blue and the Australian Industry Group. The second part of this project is the Australian Research Council Industry Linkage Grant Scheme.

Where to now?

A feasibility study into the project was completed in 2013, outlining the mostefficient way for the team to identify participants and collect information fortheir ongoing research.

Taking these recommendations into account, the second part of this research project, involving a cohort study of workers who have been out of work for over a year, is under way.

The researchers have published two journal articles based on their research activity thus far. One compares the impact of musculoskeletal and mental health claims on absenteeism, while the other explores the link between age and serious work-related injury.

PhD candidate Ollie Black is also completing a thesis based on this research.

Watch this space for further updates.