Injuries at work — everything you need to know

By Warren Robertson

You’ve been injured on the job. Now what? Do you hire an attorney? Do you notify somebody? Is your injury compensable, and if so, what benefits are you entitled to? If you don’t know these answers, the following eight questions will help you understand your rights.

1. What is workers’ compensation?

The Compensation Fund is a scheme designed to help those who have been involved in an accident at work or who develop an illness caused by their working conditions. Each month, employers pay into the Compensation Fund. This amount may not be deducted from an employee’s salary.

2. Which workers’ compensation laws apply?

Employees may claim from the fund if they were injured or contracted a disease while working (permanent or casual), training, or completing an apprenticeship. A claim may also be made if a family member died on the job or in the case of a worker paid by a labour agency.

The fund, however, excludes employees who are partially disabled for less than three days; domestic workers; anyone receiving military training; members of the South African Police Service or South African National Defence Force; any worker who is guilty of wilful misconduct, unless seriously disabled or killed; anyone who is employed outside of South Africa for 12 or more continuous months; and workers working mainly outside South Africa and who are only temporarily employed in South Africa.

3. Is my employer exempt from workers’ compensation coverage?

No. All employers who employ one or more workers need to register with the Compensation Fund and this will need to be done separately for all the different branches within your business, unless you have made arrangements for combined registration.

Employers will need to complete the W.As.2 compensation fund form. You can get this form at any Department of Labour centre or it is available on their website. This form needs to be submitted via post, fax, or email. Be sure to include the following:

  • If you are a company or close corporation: a copy of the registration certificate from the registrar of companies.
  • If you are a sole proprietor of the business: a copy of your ID.

Once you are registered, you are required to then pay an annual assessment fee based on your workers’ earnings and the risks associated with the type of work being done. Certain employers do not have to pay assessment fees.

Every year in April, the Compensation Fund sends a notice of assessment, which stipulates how much you should pay for the assessment. This assessment is compiled by the Compensation Fund once a return of earnings has been completed and submitted by you. Fees may increase or decrease according to an employer’s accident costs. Employers with low costs may qualify for assessment fee rebates.

4. Did I suffer a compensable injury?

You cannot claim for pain and suffering; only for loss of movement, function, or use of your body.

5. Is my injury covered?

There are four kinds of compensation: Temporary disability (when you are unable to work or cannot do all your work because of an injury or disease, but you will recover); permanent disability (an injury or illness that you will never recover from, for example losing a limb); death benefits (if the family breadwinner was killed by an occupational injury or disease); or medical benefits (all the medical expenses of a worker will be paid for up to two years, from the date of the accident or the diagnosis of the disease).

6. What benefits am I entitled to?

The amount of compensation paid to you depends on how much you were earning when you got injured or diagnosed. If you stopped working by the time a disease is diagnosed, the compensation will be worked out according to what you would have been earning.

7. What steps must I take to claim compensation?

  1. Inform your supervisor or employer as soon as possible (verbally or in writing). Make note of anyone who witnessed the accident.
  2. The form that needs to be completed is WCL 2: Notice of Accident and Claim for Compensation.
  3. Your employer must then report the accident to the Compensation Commissioner (even if they don’t believe your story) by submitting Form WCL 3: Employer's Report of Accident.
  4. The employer must report a workplace injury within seven days or within 14 days of finding out that the worker has an occupational disease.
  5. The employee should check that all the details on the form are correct.
  6. Within 14 days of seeing the worker, the doctor must complete form WCL 4, stating how serious the injury was and how long the worker is likely to be off work. This is sent to the employer, who sends it to the Commissioner.
  7. You do not pay for the doctor's fees. But if you want a second opinion, you will have to pay for this.
  8. If the injury will take a long time to heal, the doctor must send a progress report (WCL 5) to the Commissioner every month until the condition is fully stabilised. This informs the Commissioner of how long you’ll be off work.
  9. Finally, the doctor must submit a final doctor's report (WCL 5), stating either that you are fit to return to work, or that you are permanently disabled. The doctor must send this form to the employer, who sends it to the Commissioner.
  10. When you return to work, your employer must send a resumption report (WCL 6) to the Commissioner, stating that you are back at work and how much you were paid in compensation.
  11. Both you and your employer should keep copies of all the forms.
  12. When the first doctor's report has been submitted with the accident report, the Compensation Commissioner will consider the claim and make a decision. A claim number will also be allocated. This number should be used for all paperwork relating to a claim.
  13. If you disagree with the decision, you can appeal the decision within 90 days by submitting form W929 to the Commissioner.

All forms that need to be submitted can be sent to:

Compensation Commissioner

PO Box 955

Pretoria

0001

One thing you must never do, is file a false workers’ compensation claim or exaggerate your injuries. If you do, you are committing fraud and could suffer criminal punishment.

8. Who pays the claim?

The Compensation Commissioner is appointed to administer the Fund and approves workers’ claims. The worker receives money from the Fund and not from the employer.

BUT the employer has to pay the injured worker for the first three months after the injury was sustained. The Compensation Fund will refund the employer.

If the worker is off for more than three months, the Compensation Commissioner takes over the monthly payments.

If the employer has insurance against workplace injuries, then the insurance company will pay the compensation. In these cases, claims are still made to and decided by the Compensation Commissioner.

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