Psychological injuries: Is it the most costly and complex type of worker’s comp claim?

ELM: Fiona, can you comment on any changes, updates, and/or challenges in the workers’ compensation landscape in Australia at the moment; whether it be on a national or state level? What trends are you and your Moray & Agnew team noticing?

Fiona: The workers compensation landscape in New South Wales is in a state of constant change – changes that encompass policy, legislation and general administration of the workers compensation framework. Significant amendments to the legislation were rolled out in 2012 and the effect of those amendments continue to impact upon all stakeholders.

Perhaps the most significant development in recent times from a claims administration perspective is the significant reduction in the number of insurers appointed by icare to manage claims. icare workers insurance has selected EML to be the only entity to partner with icare to manage new claims effective from 1 January 2018, whilst GIO and Allianz have been appointed as transition partners responsible for managing existing claims.

More generally, the number of claims associated with psychological injuries continue to increase. This type of claim continues to be the most costly and complex type of injury to manage from an employer’s perspective.

ELM: What do you envisage will be some of the key impacts on employers from these developments?

Fiona: In theory, the appointment of only one insurer to manage claims moving forward ought to result in a more streamlined and consistent approach to claims management.

Overall, there are fewer psychological injury claims when compared with claims stemming from physical injuries. However, the cost of those psychological injury claims is disproportionately high. The claims cost is exacerbated by difficulties encountered when trying to return psychologically injured workers to their pre-injury place of employment.

ELM: In your opinion, what can employers do to best prepare themselves for the above, and ensure they’re being compliant?

Fiona: I believe the first step employers need to take is to acknowledge that psychological injuries are becoming increasingly common and accept that they may have a liability for such claims. From that point, employers are best served by identifying such claims (or even potential claims) as early as possible before taking steps to manage the issue with reference to appropriate policies and procedures.

ELM: How can employers gain better training in the mental health space you think?

Fiona: Again, acknowledging that claims stemming from employee mental health present with a very real and costly liability is the first step. In recent times, many employers are establishing policies and procedures to act as a guide in managing claims of this nature. Whilst such policies will not always address the specific issues that arise in each case, they are certainly a useful starting point and guide to action that needs to be taken. Many different providers offer training in the mental health space, however employers may best be served by contacting their workers compensation insurer to see what training opportunities may be offered in connection with their policy.

ELM: You and your colleague Tim McDonald are presenting at the upcoming Workers’ Compensation Forum in June on the legalities related to managing workers’ compensation and injury management; what are you hoping delegates will benefit from most in your presentation? 

Fiona: Hopefully, our presentation will give those attending a broad yet useful outline of their obligations associated with injury management, both from an industrial and workers compensation perspective. The issues we will be discussing are relevant for the purposes of strategic and cost effective business management, whether that business be big or small.


About Fiona King:

Fiona commenced her legal career with Moray & Agnew in 1999. Since that time, she has dealt with all facets of workers compensation and common law, recovery and contribution actions. She is a Law Society of NSW Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury. Fiona has extensive experience representing clients across a range of jurisdictions, including the New South Wales Supreme Court, District Court and the NSW Workers Compensation Commission.
Many of the claims Fiona handles involve psychological injury. She is accustomed to identifying potentially sensitive matters quickly and formulating a strategy to resolve those issues in dispute, having regard to minimising impact on a client’s public profile. Fiona is also highly skilled in formal and informal alternative dispute resolution procedures, enabling her to facilitate early resolution of claims.
Fiona will be one of 16 speakers at the upcoming Workers’ Compensation Forum at the Fraser Suites, Sydney on 19 & 20 June. This two day conference will have over 40 workers comp, claims, injury management type executives in attendance.