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Psychological injuries are on the rise in workplaces


Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Lawyer Yasmine Chalvatzis delves into recent statistics from Safe Work on mental health claims, and sets out when an individual suffering from a workplace psychological condition is entitled to workers’ compensation.

National body Safe Work Australia has revealed new statistics on psychological health and safety in the workplace, finding that the number of serious workers’ compensation claims related to mental health conditions is on the rise.

In its latest data report, Safe Work Australia found that while mental health conditions only accounted for 9 per cent of all serious workers’ compensation claims in 2021-22, the proportion of them being filed has risen by 36.9 per cent since 2017.

Of the 11,700 mental health claims filed between 2021 and 2022, most were caused by harassment and bullying at work (27.5 per cent), too much work pressure (25.2 per cent) or witnessing or experiencing violence on the job (16.4 per cent).

The two top offending industries were health care and social assistance (including hospitals, ambulances, general medical care, childcare and aged and residential care), and the public administration and safety sector (including workers who provide police and other emergency services as well as correctional and detention services).

The Safe Work report comes after the body released an updated Code of Practice for employers to eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks at the workplace. In Queensland, the code took effect on 1 April 2023. By law, employers have a duty of care and vicarious liability for acts of bullying, discrimination, harassment, misconduct and aggression that occur in their business.

Safe Work says that exposure to psychological hazards in the workplace significantly increases the risk of work-related psychological injuries and leads to poorer mental health outcomes.

More public awareness and regulatory attention on these issues and the harm they can cause can only be seen as a good thing.

We represent claimants every day who have been exposed to psychosocial hazards in the workplace to the detriment of their mental health. These individuals are facing unimaginable difficulties and because their injury is not physical, they too often face stigma or shame that dissuades them from speaking out about their situation.

For those that do lodge compensation claims for a psychological injury, they can often be met with obstacles and delays hindering their access to crucial support, further delaying their recovery.

Are you suffering from a psychological condition because of your workplace?

  • Many psychological injuries often happen over time after being exposed to psychosocial hazards in the workplace, such as Intense time constraints or high levels of emotional demands,
  • No support or acknowledgment from your employer,
  • Your contributions go unrecognised or your concerns and complaints not being addressed,
  • Poor organisational changes within the workplace,
  • Isolated work conditions,
  • Exposure to aggressive behaviour or inappropriate behaviour,
  • Bullying and harassment, or
  • Lack of training.

If you are experiencing distress, anxiety, frustration, low motivation, or a change in your mood or appearance, or if you are fearful whilst at work, you may be suffering from an undiagnosed psychological condition.

Without obtaining the necessary treatment or the appropriate support, this could have an increasingly negative impact on your life and those of your family members.

If you are suffering from a psychological condition because of a workplace incident or events over a period of time, you will usually have access to statutory benefits (e.g., weekly income payments, medical treatment costs, etc.) to help you get better.

Case study

While employed as a corrective services officer at a large prison for many years, an injured worker in Queensland suffered psychological injuries because of multiple distressing events, including being exposed to prisoners self-harming in disturbing ways and witnessing multiple “prisoner takedowns” (where correctional officers intervene and apply force to detain prisoners).

She witnessed prisoners being held down and their clothes cut off; was required to put her fingers down a prisoner’s throat to remove an object; was constantly ridiculed and called offensive terms; was exposed to prisoners painting their cells in menstrual blood; and her life was threatened by a prisoner she was required to see daily.

The injured worker reported each event to her employer and sought assistance. However, no assistance was provided.

The injured worker routinely found herself placed in situations where she was required to manage the violent and distressing outbursts of prisoners without support.

In addition, when the injured worker reported the incidents, telling her employer (both in writing and verbally) she needed assistance because she was under significant distress and feared for her safety, her employer took no steps to address her concerns.

As a result, the injured worker developed a psychological injury. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was forced to resign from her position.

The injured worker successfully claimed compensation through WorkCover Queensland. An independent medical assessor determined that the injured worker suffered a permanent impairment from her work condition, and the insurer issued an offer to finalise her statutory claim.

The injured worker rejected the offer and commenced proceedings in a common law claim.

It was evident the employer breached their non-delegable duty of care it owed to her, and she could prove she had experienced an injury because of that breach.

In this case, the injured worker successfully settled her claim for compensation at the compulsory settlement conference for general damages (pain and suffering), past and future income loss, and past and future medical costs because of her workplace injury.

The claims process

The system is complex for injured workers to navigate unassisted, and often, people miss out on accessing the available benefits they are entitled to.

In Queensland, individuals must initially apply for workers’ compensation as a statutory benefits claim.

This process may take place through online portals, during your initial appointment with a treating professional or after a discussion with your employer. When someone applies for compensation, WorkCover Queensland will only approve a claim for statutory benefits if the individual’s psychological injury was not caused by a reasonable management action.

For example, if your employer manages your performance over a period and decides to terminate your employment and you suffer a psychological injury, your claim will only be accepted or succeed if the employer’s actions were unreasonable.

For management action to be regarded as reasonable, it does not have to be the best or the preferrable course of action; only reasonably justified and done in a reasonable way.

When the insurer accepts a compensation claim, this entitles an injured worker to benefits such as weekly income payments, medical treatment costs, rehabilitation expenses, return to work assistance, and a lump sum for any permanent impairment.

These benefits cover workers for much of the costs they incur whilst off work or only working limited hours while receiving necessary treatment and support.

Once your mental health condition stabilises, an independent medical assessor (paid for by the workers’ compensation insurer) will assess whether you have suffered a permanent impairment from your work injury or condition. This is also known as an assessment for the degree of permanent impairment, examining the loss of efficient use of parts of your body. If you are suffering from a degree of permanent impairment from a psychiatric/psychological injury, the insurer will offer you a lump sum payment based on your percentage of impairment for compensation before your statutory benefits claim is finalised.

There are further options to consider in workers’ compensation claims. You may also be able to make a common law claim for compensation if your injuries resulted from your employer’s negligence, co-worker’s negligence, a dangerous system of work, unsafe work practices, poor training, or similar.

To succeed with a common law claim, you must prove that your employer or co-worker was at fault or that reasonable precautions would have prevented the work incident and injury from occurring.

We know from experience that psychological and psychiatric claims pay out more than physical injuries. In fact, in its most recent report, Safe Work Australia found that the time people took off work and the money paid out for mental health problems were more than four times higher than physical injuries and illnesses at work.

If you currently need help with your mental health, support is available. Please reach out to:

In an emergency, please call 000.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping workers get the treatment and compensation they need

Each state and territory have different schemes available for workers to claim compensation if they have suffered a psychological or physical injury in the course of their work.

Each scheme’s process, and what you may be entitled to claim, can vary depending on where you are located.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers is here to support you through the entire process. With extensive experience in multiple jurisdictions, we understand the magnitude of making a claim in this area and how confronting it can be.

We want to help you get the treatment you need so that you can get your life back on track and get back to work.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers operate on a No Win, No Fee basis for all workers’ compensation claims. For a confidential discussion about your specific circumstances, please call our Compensation Law Department Manager Tyra Hall on direct line 07 5506 8261, email or free call 1800 621 071 any time.

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Yasmine Chalvatzis

Compensation Law

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The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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