2 December 2019

Health sector’s sorry record for mental injury claims

KnowCents Mental Health Workers Compensation

Healthcare is all about caring for people. Ironically, it’s also the sector where employees are most likely to be psychologically injured at work.

In NSW, around a quarter of the psychological injury claims came from the health and community services sector in 2017.

Of the total 2,612 mental health claims made across the state in 2017, the health and community services sector contributed 673.

The NSW government agency responsible for worker’s compensation insurance, icare, is concerned about the upwards trend.

Psychological injury claims made up 8% of the total claims in the health and community services sector in 2017, an increase from 6% in 2013.

The burden of psychological injury in the health sector was greater than in other sectors, making up only around 1% of claims in construction and around 2% in manufacturing. Psychological injury claims accounted for around 15% of total claims in the finance and insurance industry, but the overall volume of claims was low compared with the health sector.

 Most of the psychological injury claims in the health sector were being made by community and personal service workers, such as aged and disabled carers, child carers, welfare support workers, dental assistants, nursing support staff and ambulance officers.

This group made a total of 1,374 psychological injury claims in 2013-17, while professionals such as doctors and nurses only made 483 claims in that period.

“In that particular industry, we know its community and personal service workers who are the most likely to sustain a psychological injury and not people who are in those professional or managerial or administrative type roles,” said Jennifer Cameron, the injury prevention manager at icare.

Women aged 50 to 59 years were the most likely demographic to sustain a psychological injury at work.

The more “obvious” triggers of mental distress in the workplace, such as exposure to trauma or stress related to cognitive load, weren’t the main driving factors behind psychological injury in the health sector, Ms Cameron said. Instead, bullying and harassment were the leading causes.

“What the data is telling us it’s often about the environment that people are in and the support and the interpersonal relationships that are a driving factor,” she said.

The insurer is working with employers to create safer work environments by inviting managers, supervisors, HR and safety staff to a two-day mental health first aid program.

It had also developed a culture survey, validated by Griffith University, which looks at whether leaders “walk the talk”, Ms Cameron said.

The survey examines whether leaders are accessible and visible and whether communication is clear and sufficient. It looks at the quality of relationships between peers and the level of trust between managers and workers.

It also surveyed whether there was a “sense of a just culture” where employees could report safety concerns without fearing that they would be reprimanded.

After the survey, icare works with organisations to change the organisational culture.

On average, people who made a successful psychological injury claim in NSW took 127 days off work and received $51,098.

Workers can lodge claims using an online portal within around 15 minutes. The claim is usually reviewed within three business days, and icare must make a liability decision within seven days of receipt.