Reforming a complex system: the case of NSW workers' compensation and return to work

Sasha Holley, Louise Thornthwaite, Sharron O’Neill, Ray Markey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Numerous government inquiries have established that a central objective for a successful workers' compensation scheme is timely and durable return to work for injured workers, through effective occupational rehabilitation. Yet workers' compensation schemes are complex systems involving multiple parties, which interact dynamically and non-linearly to influence later events in unpredictable ways. Complex systems theory predicts that the relationship patterns within a system, like workers' compensation, are just as likely to tend toward failure as they are toward success. This paper demonstrates that in spite of an abundance of government recommendations and scholarly evidence prioritising timely return to work for injured workers, the New South Wales Workers' Compensation Scheme systematically fails to support this objective. Instead, endemic hostility toward injured workers obstructs legislative intent to support efforts to rehabilitate and return to work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-99
Number of pages15
JournalLabour and Industry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2015


  • Workers' compensation
  • Complex systems theory
  • Return to work
  • Injured workers
  • Occupational rehabilitation
  • Workplace health and safety


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