Injury management in Hong Kong is lagging behind the times

Author: Liana Cafolla | Date: 13 Jan 2016

Prioritising compensation over rehabilitation is harmful in the long term, says expert

Hong Kong’s injury management regime prioritises compensation over rehabilitation in an outdated system that causes suffering to injured workers and their families, according to a leading expert on workplace welfare. This leads to lower productivity and higher compensation and insurance costs.
Paul Yip, professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong, led a study with the Employees’ Compensation Insurance Residual Bureau to find out what is behind the slow uptake of occupational rehabilitation in Hong Kong, and review the local Employees’ Compensation scheme.
Compensation for injury management has remained unchanged since 1953 and is in need of an overhaul, says Yip. While Hong Kong’s figures for non-fatal occupational accidents have improved in recent years, the workplace fatality rate in the city, for accidents or work-related diseases, is 5.2 deaths per 10,000 workers, well above the 2.1 recorded in Singapore and the 1.7 in Australia. In his study of practices in Hong Kong, titled ‘From Compensation to Rehabilitation – A Social Review of the Employees’ Compensation Insurance System in Hong Kong’, Yip found that compensation typically takes priority over rehabilitation. This is in contrast to international best practice, which favours early and comprehensive intervention to encourage workers’ rehabilitation.
Yip says some lawyers may take advantage of vulnerable injured workers to encourage litigation, resulting in high costs to society and not necessarily resulting in financial gain to the injured parties.
Both the public healthcare system and organisations need adjustment. While most injured workers want to return to work, delayed treatment under the public healthcare system means they often miss the most critical period for treatment, which is usually three to six months after an injury has occurred. Yip says some workers have reported waiting for up to two years to see an orthopaedic specialist in non-urgent cases. When it does come, medical advice is often limited to passive treatment such as resting or physiotherapy. And when they do get back to work, organisations are slow to help injured workers readjust by offering modified duties.
The most effective way to minimise injury is to implement a system of safe practices at work, but despite extensive education efforts by the government and community organisations, poor awareness of workplace safety, among employees and employers, continues to predominate in Hong Kong, according to the report. Better safety education and training to prevent accidents in the first place – as well as inspections, timely reporting and corrective action – are needed.
When accidents do occur, workers should not only receive financial compensation, but also get help to re-integrate back into the workplace.
“Returning to work in a safe and timely manner should be the primary goal of recovery after injury. A government policy promoting both rehabilitation and compensation should be in place to guide legislation and organisation practices,” Yip writes. “By aligning prevention, compensation and rehabilitation through continuous improvement and engagement, while learning from experiences overseas, Hong Kong will continue to prosper with a safe working environment.”