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The Psychological Impact of Workplace Injuries and the Role of Workers’ Compensation

The Psychological Impact of Workplace Injuries and the Role of Workers' Compensation

Physical injuries such as cuts, bruises and breaks, while painful, are obvious and easy to treat. In contrast, psychological injury can be much harder to detect, often disguised or suppressed by the sufferer – and yet this sort of injury can be more debilitating and enduring than physical injuries.

Until recent years the possibility of suffering psychological injury at work was largely ignored but is now a common cause of workers’ compensation claims. Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress are all recognised as real and harmful consequences of work-related incidents.

This article looks more closely at the psychological impact of workplace injuries, the role of Queensland’s workers’ compensation scheme, and the challenges and support available for affected workers in Queensland.

Psychological injuries at work

The trauma of experiencing an injury or witnessing a traumatic event at work can disrupt an individual’s sense of safety and well-being, triggering feelings of fear, helplessness, and vulnerability which can persist long after the event. Burnout, workplace bullying and work-related stress are also some of the common causes of psychological injury.

The effects of these feelings can be compounded by the financial strain of recovery, from medical expenses to lost wages and worry about ongoing job security.

Queensland’s workers’ compensation scheme acknowledges the reality of psychological injury, and workers who experience psychological harm or develop a psychological condition as a result of their employment are entitled to seek compensation for their injuries.

Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other psychological disorders are some of the conditions an injured worker can make a claim for. However, proving psychological injuries can be challenging compared with physical injuries, relying heavily on medical evidence and the need to prove the injury arose directly out of the injured party’s employment and not, for example, out of ‘reasonable management action, taken in a reasonable way’ by the employer.

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Challenges in making psychological injury claims

Unlike physical injuries, psychological conditions are easier to cast doubt on or be met with scepticism by insurers and employers, sometimes making resolution of compensation claims longer and more complicated. The severity of psychological injuries, and their impact on someone’s life and livelihood, can also be difficult to quantify.

These challenges make medical assessment of the injury, often by specialist practitioners in the area of psychological injury, crucial to any claim. WorkCover will, in general, give greater weight to a psychological or psychiatric assessment of an injured person rather than one made by a general practitioner.

Making a claim

If a claim as a result of work-related psychological injury proceeds, compensation can be awarded to cover:

  • payment of medical and rehabilitation expenses;
  • reimbursement of travel expenses to attend medical and rehabilitation appointments;
  • reimbursement for medications;
  • wages lost during any period that you are incapacitated for work by reason of your psychological symptoms.

An injured party must lodge an application for compensation within six months from the date they first consulted a medical practitioner for treatment of a psychological condition. Filing an application outside of this time frame risks the claim being barred.

An injured worker may also be able to file a common law claim for damages against their employer provided they can prove their psychological injury was caused by the employer’s negligence. This requires the injured person to prove that the employer knew the worker was likely to suffer a psychological injury, and failed to take steps to prevent the injury from occurring.

This type of claim can, potentially, bring a much larger compensation payment to cover:

  • pain and suffering and loss of amenities of life;
  • past economic loss of wages, superannuation, overtime, bonuses etc, that would have been earned but for the injury;
  • past special damages to cover the personal costs of medical appointments, rehabilitation, medicine, travel and other expenses;
  • future economic loss based on loss of wages, superannuation, overtime, professional advancement, and loss of competitiveness as a result of the injury;
  • special damages to cover future expenses of medical appointments, rehabilitation, travel and other expenses.

Help is available

A key aim of statutory workers’ compensation schemes is recovery of the injured individual so that they can return to work. To this end, workers have access to various support services and resources to address their mental health needs. Employers are encouraged to promote a psychologically safe work environment and provide access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offering counseling and support services.

Additionally, workers can seek assistance from mental health professionals, including psychologists and counselors, who can provide assessment, treatment, and documentation to support their workers’ compensation claims. In many cases, employers will fund counselling sessions with qualified professionals for workers’ experiencing symptoms of psychological injury.

Speak with our expert team

Expert legal assistance from lawyers with wide experience of workers’ compensation claims is invaluable when making a compensation claim based on work-related psychological injury. Because such injuries can be difficult to prove, and their severity a challenge to quantify, it’s important to have an experienced legal professional on your side to navigate the sometimes complex path of obtaining medical evidence in order to convince an employer and their insurer about the reality of the injury.

If you need more clarification or explanation about any of the information we’ve presented on this topic, call our dedicated team at ROC Legal.

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