Workplace Injuries

Understanding workplace psychological injury & stress claims in Queensland

October 25, 2021
understanding workplace psychological injury and stress claims

When people think about workplace injuries, they usually think about physical injuries. However, there are times when you may suffer a psychological (or stress) injury resulting from your workplace. 

Factors like performance pressure, workplace bullying and harassment, or seeing a workmate get seriously injured or being sexually assaulted by a colleague or supervisor can all play a part.

Let’s explore your rights as a worker in Queensland. 

How is a psychological injury or workplace stress defined?

WorkSafeQueensland defines a psychological injury as “a disorder or illness that affects your mood, feelings, thoughts or behaviour that has resulted from your job”. 

All employers should provide a healthy work environment to keep employees protected and free from additional stresses. It’s in their best interest to maintain this safe environment because psychological injuries can lower productivity and increase sick days.

Although often presenting as “stress”, psychological injuries may also be shown as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, hyper vigilance, social withdrawal
  • Anxiety – insomnia, panic attacks, breathing issues, tension, unable to calm down
  • Depression     – guilt, apathy, fatigue, mood swings, agitation, lack of concentration

How do psychological injuries happen in a workplace? 

Psychological injuries and work-related stress can occur for a range of reasons including:

  • The work environment – noise levels, machine usage,     injury occurrence rates
  • The job itself – security, progression, variety,     pressure, hours
  • Bullying or harassment – verbal, physical, social, or     psychological
  • Witnessing     an incident – seeing a workmate injured while you’re working

Are specific industries more prone to psychological injuries?

Although psychological workplace injuries can occur anywhere, there are industries where reporting incidents are more common. Those most at risk of experiencing a psychological injury (due to the nature of their work) include:

  • First responders
  • Defence force members
  • Public transport – train, tram and bus drivers
  • Support workers – health and welfare officers, social workers
  • Security personnel – prison officers, guards 

Research suggests that psychological injuries tend to affect workers who have public-facing jobs. This tends to be because they are forced to deal with challenging situations and the general public as part of their everyday role. 

Can you claim workers’ compensation for stress or psychological injuries?

Yes, you can. However, it’s on you as the worker to prove that your psychological injury is the direct result of your workplace – either as an incident that happened to you or a traumatic event you’ve witnessed. 

You will also need evidence to prove the cause and effect of your psychological injury is directly affecting your daily life.  

How to obtain proof of your psychological injury

With the burden of proof falling to you to prove your psychological injury is linked to your workplace, it’s best to see a medical expert such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. 

It’s highly recommended that you keep a record to show how you feel and how the injury affects all aspects of your life – including the social, emotional, and physical impacts. Having an early and contemporaneous record of these impacts on your life is likely to assist your claim.

To strengthen your compensation claim, you can:

·       Document the duration of your injury (particularly for PTSD, which can remain for long periods)

·       Note related conditions such as tension headaches or stress ulcers

·       Provide medical certificates or reports to support your claim 

How many claims around psychological injuries have occurred in Queensland?

The most recent report from WorkSafe Queensland reveals that from over 73,600 decisions on claims for the year, 5.9 per cent of them were for psychological claims (up 0.8 per cent from the year prior). 

There were 3,741 decisions made on psychological and psychiatric injuries with:

·       45.6% being admitted

·       54.4% being rejected

·       21 day average turnaround time for accepted claim decisions

·       41 day average turnaround time for rejected claim decisions 

They note that the rejection rate is high due to workers claiming compensation for psychological injuries that have arisen due to “reasonable management action”. 

Will my claim for psychological injury get approved by WorkCover?

According to WorkSafe Queensland, for your psychological injury to be eligible for compensation, “your employment needs to be a significant contributing factor”. 

For example, if your employer has acted negligently and consequently you develop a psychological injury, you may be eligible for compensation. 

However, there are times when your employer may make decisions about your employment such as a transfer, demote or discipline you, or the worst-case scenario, retrench you.

If these actions have been the cause of your psychological injury, you may not be eligible for compensation as they are deemed “reasonable management action” by your employer. 

A change in legislation for first responders and eligible employees diagnosed with PTSD

From 20 May 2021, the legislation changed for all first responders and eligible employees diagnosed with PTSD. First responders often face traumatic events – it’s the nature of their industry. And PTSD is often a common side effect of this line of work. 

This new ruling allows first responders and eligible employees struggling with PTSD to have quicker access to support and compensation. 

Unless their employer can prove otherwise, all PTSD claims from these workers will be deemed to be caused by their work. 

Here are some vital resources if you need help or someone to talk to 

  • WorkCover: 1300 362 128
  • Workers’ Psychological Support Service: 1800 370 732
  • Mental health phone service for Queenslanders (links to public mental health services: 1300 642 255
  • Lifeline: 131114
  • Beyondblue: 1300 224 636
  • Victim Assist Queensland (for Victims of Crime)
  • MATES in Construction (for the Queensland construction industry suicide prevention)

  

Profile Picture of Peta Miller

A finalist for the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland's (WLAQ) Emergent Woman Lawyer of the Year in 2017 and Solicitor for the past seven years, Peta has worked exclusively in compensation law for 6 of those years.

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Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation.

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