Injured Teachers' Experiences of the Victorian Workers' Compensation Stress Claims Process: Adversarial and Alienating

By Pollard, Wendy May | Health Sociology Review, August 2014 | Go to article overview

Injured Teachers' Experiences of the Victorian Workers' Compensation Stress Claims Process: Adversarial and Alienating


Pollard, Wendy May, Health Sociology Review


Kenny, Carlson, McGuigan, and Sheppard (2000) argue that occupational stress is one of the most costly occupational health issues. Occupational stress should not be seen purely from a scientific perspective, it should also take into consideration the wider ideological, social and political processes operating within soci- ety (Lewig & Dollard, 2001). Furthermore, the ambiguous nature of occupational stress leaves it open to political, social and economic manipula- tion (Lewig & Dollard, 2001) which can have implications for the lodgement of a workers' compensation stress claim, experiences of the claims process, and a claims trajectory and out- come as is evident in this study.

According to Hanks (2008), stress-related worker's compensation claims are the most expensive type. These claims involve serious physical and psychological illnesses in the injured parties and extensive loss of resources for organ- isations (Kenny et ah, 2000).

Throughout Australia, from 1996/1997 to 2003/2004, the number of workers' compen- sation claims decreased in all categories except mental stress, which increased by 83% (Hanks, 2008). Claims for mental stress increased by 12% between 2001/2002 and 2004/2005 (Hanks, 2008). Stress claims are more prevalent in the government and community sector where they make up 20% of claims (Hanks, 2008). In Victoria, mental stress claims increased from 2148 in 2000/2001 to 2920 in 2003/2004 (Hanks, 2008). Australia-wide, both the average financial cost and the time lost from work for stress-related claims are more than double those for the average of all new claims (Hanks, 2008).

Considering that mental stress is a prevalent cause of workers' compensation claims in the education sector (Department of Education & Training,Victoria,2005), the relationship between the workers' compensation process and teacher claimants is worthy of being studied. There has been little research into the experiences of injured teachers and the stress claims process (McIntosh, 2005). McIntosh's research suggests that injured teachers are dissatisfied with the stress claims pro- cess, particularly with the difficulty experienced in gaining knowledge of the process and with its efficacy from their perspectives.

In December 2007, due to the dissatis- faction expressed by WorkCover claimants, Peter Hanks QC was commissioned, by the Victorian Minister for Finance, WorkCover and the Transport Accident Commission, to con- duct an independent review of the Accident Compensation Act 1985 and associated legisla- tion. Hanks was briefed to provide advice and recommendations in relation to improving the operation of the WorkCover scheme. Problems identified within Hanks' report concur with the problems identified by participants in this study. These include a perceived lack of accountabil- ity and transparency, poor claimant access to medical information, excessive formalities, and unnecessarily adversarial dispute resolution pro- cess. These problems identified were noted to be especially relevant to stress claims.

THE FORMATION OF AUSTRALIA'S WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAW AND THE VICTORIAN WORKERS' COMPENSATION POLICY

The first Australian workers' compensation laws were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. The initial statutes were based on 1897 British legislation. In Australia's federalist constitu- tion, workers' compensation law was made a state government responsibility (Purse, 2005). Each Australian state and territory has its own workers' compensation scheme, governed by separate leg- islation. The state and national schemes vary con- siderably in design, coverage, benefit entitlements, compliance and premiums (Purse, 2005).

Prior to 1900, the costs of work related injury were borne largely by workers and their families. Access to compensation for work related injuries was confined to common law remedies. Under common law, an injured worker could claim com- pensation if negligence could be proven. …

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