Rise in workers’ comp claims leads ACTU to call for action on mental health injuries

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, 15 January, 2021 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

In the 2018-19 year there have been over 114,000 serious workers’ compensation claims, according to new Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics.

Although men accounted for a significant proportion of the physical injuries sustained, women accounted for a greater proportion of diseases, particularly mental health conditions.

Women were almost three times as likely as men to sustain mental health injuries at work.

Healthcare and social assistance was the top industry where women were disproportionately injured compared to their male colleagues.

Women were also overrepresented for serious claims made in the education and training sector.

The statistics highlight the need for work health and safety regulations that address mental health hazards in the workplace, according to the ACTU.

To date, there are over 20 formal workplace health and safety regulations that provide guidance for physical hazards, and none in place for mental health hazards, said ACTU secretary Sally McManus.

She said the rise of mental health injuries in the workplace is expected to only be exacerbated in 2019-20 statistics, with the pandemic creating a number of unprecedented issues that affect mental health and wellbeing, as well as a significant increase in reliance on essential services and their workers.

“This illustrates the need for regulations that help employers understand their obligations when it comes to the mental health of their workers,” said McManus.

“Women are overrepresented in the statistics of mental health injuries sustained in the workplace; this needs to be addressed.

“We need to protect every person whose job has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and women are overrepresented in these jobs.

“The pandemic has highlighted the shortcomings in our understanding of workplace health and safety around mental health injuries, and we really need to fix this issue before we see any more Australians suffer.

“Every Australian has a right to be safe at their place of work, and that extends beyond physical injury.

“With an increase of conversations around the importance of sound mental health and wellbeing, our workplace health and safety standards should evolve to reflect that.”

The release of the statistics comes ahead of a meeting of Ministers of Workplace Safety from each state and territory to discuss recommendations from the Boland Review, one of which is the inclusion of mental hazard regulations in the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

The ACTU called on the Ministers to protect workers from mental health hazards and injuries by adopting the Boland Review’s recommendation.

A recent survey conducted by the ACTU found that more than 60 per cent of respondents had experienced mental ill-health because their employer had failed to manage psychosocial hazards in their workplace.

The same survey found that almost half of respondents felt their employer was unprepared to support workers experiencing mental health issues in the workplace.

The ACTU also welcomed some of the Productivity Commission report recommendations around workers’ compensation including no-liability treatment for mental health injuries and claims and improving the role of the workers’ compensation system in rehabilitation and return-to-work for psychological injury across industries.

“Ensuring that all instances of workplace-related mental health are captured by the Workers’ Compensation system would be a huge step towards ensuring that no one in Australia suffering mental illness is without support,” said ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien.