Mental injuries surge in Victorian workplaces

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 11 November, 2022 - 12:30
Industry news

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety warning to employers to address psychological hazards in their workplaces as the number of mental injuries in Victorian workplaces surges.

Of the 28,682 claims received by WorkSafe Victoria in the 2021-22 financial year, 4340 were for mental injury.

While claims for work-related mental injuries now make up 15.1 per cent of all new claims (up from 13.1 per cent the previous year) they are on track to grow to a third of all WorkSafe claims by the end of the decade.

“Sadly, while three-quarters of workers with a physical injury are back on the job in six months, just 40 per cent of workers with mental injury return to work within that time,” said WorkSafe Victoria executive director of health and safety Narelle Beer.

“Just because a mental injury is harder to see, doesn’t mean it can’t be prevented. We’re putting employers on notice that they have a legal obligation to make sure their workplaces are psychologically safe.”

She urged employers to make sure they have policies, processes and training in place to address risks such as bullying, aggression, trauma, fatigue, stress and high job demands.

Mental injuries often needed more recovery time than physical injuries, meaning more time off and higher costs, Beer added.

Employers who fail to take reasonable steps to prevent mental injury can face prosecution under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including potential fines of up to $332,000 for an individual or $1.66 million for a body corporate.

“Our message to employers is clear, if you turn a blind eye to bullying, harassment, or other psychological health hazards then you’re risking your workers’ safety, lost productivity and potentially hefty fines,” Beer said.

Her comments followed the release of the recent Key Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia 2022 report by Safe Work Australia, which found work-related mental health conditions are one of the costliest forms of workplace injury, leading to significantly more time off work and higher compensation paid when compared to physical injuries and diseases.

The report said mental health conditions account for a relatively small but increasing proportion of serious claims, rising from 6 per cent of all serious claims in 2014-15 to 9 per cent in 2019-20.

In 2020-21, the largest share of such claims related to anxiety or stress disorders (36 per cent) or reaction to stressors – other, multiple or not specified (34 per cent).

In 2019-20, the median time lost for mental health conditions was 30.7 working weeks per serious claim, compared to 6.2 working weeks per serious claim for physical injuries and diseases.