Workcover stress claims have overtaken wound claims for first time in Victoria, underlining the need for a constructive, safe and lawful workplace culture.
Victoria’s two biggest worker compensation categories – musculoskeletal complaints and major sprains and strains – have either fallen or remained steady in claim numbers over the past five years along with most other physical injuries. However, stress injuries have risen, moving into third place according to Victorian WorkCover Authority figures, with 58 compensation claims for psychological injuries being approved every week.
The annual amount paid out in compensation has soared by 45 per cent over the past five years to $273 million, with average individual compensation payout for psychological injuries rising from $73,000 in 2008-09 to almost $90,000 in the past financial year. This is a problem repeated nationwide, with recent Comcare data revealing an 11 per cent jump in the cost of compensation payments to Commonwealth public servants during 2012/13 – totalling $309 million.
A WorkCover spokesman said the high average cost of mental injury claims was due to longer periods of leave from work. “Mental injuries are often very complex and can require compensation and medical support over longer periods, often leading to a higher average cost,” he said.
Mental health group beyondblue attributes the recent rise in the number of work-related mental stress claims to reduced stigma, heavier workloads and increasing job insecurity. There is also a heightened recognition of the connection between the workplace and mental health, with a series of high-profile civil lawsuits ending in massive payouts from employers found at fault. This includes a former Melbourne teacher being awarded more than $1.3 million in damages for chronic depression after he was found to have been allocated an unduly heavy workload consisting of a western suburbs school’s worst-behaved students.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Kate Carnell said rising mental health WorkCover claims meant a more proactive approach was needed to foster “mentally healthy” workplaces with a focus on setting clear staff expectations, encouraging people to seek help early when needed, and offering a level of flexibility where possible. “Employers need to understand the importance of having a proactive approach to mental health, otherwise they will end up with very significant workers’ compensation claims, and that’s in nobody’s best interests.”
iHR believes creating a constructive, safe and lawful workplace culture will reduce the risk of psychological injury to employees. Well-documented policies and procedures in areas such as grievance, harassment and bullying are also tangible evidence that your organisation has taken reasonable steps to minimise business risks and unlawful practice or behaviour.