detailWorkers Compensation

Physical and psychological injury

Physical and psychological injury

The most common workplace injuries are physical in nature, that is if you are physically injured, i.e., you fracture your arm or injure your back as a result of an incident at work. These workplace injuries are obvious. There are however physical injuries that are not so obvious and have been the subject of disputed claims.

Some injuries occur as a consequence of the “Nature and Conditions” of the workplace, and such injuries may be classified as a disease. An example of an injury that occurs as a consequence of the Nature and Conditions of a worker’s employment is “heavy repetitive lifting”. Heavy repetitive lifting causes injuries to the neck, back and joints gradually over a long period of time. It is as though each working day adds to the deterioration of the medical condition. In such cases, each and every workday can be defined as a separate date of injury, until finally one day is the straw that breaks  the camel’s back, and the worker is unable to perform that work any longer. In these circumstances, the injury is defined as a “Disease”, and the date of injury is the late date of work.

There are instances where workers are placed in a position where they contract an actual disease. These injuries are common in the medical/ medical related occupations which include professions such as:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Ambulance responders
  • Dentists

Although these types of injures are common in these professions, disease claims are quite uncommon. This is because Australia has very good occupational health systems in place mandatory for each profession. Nevertheless, sometimes accidents and injuries occur.

A common type of actual disease claim is accidental hypodermic needle penetration (needle stick). Needle stick accident can transmit diseases, some of which are incurable, such as hepatitis or  HIV . It is because needle stick injuries have the potential to transmit incurable diseases, and it often takes time and multiple tests to see if a disease has been transmitted, such incidents are often associated with psychological sequelae associated to the workplace, such as shock, anxiety and depression.

What happens if you have psychological injury?

Psychological injuries are much harder to prove than physical injuries. If you are experiencing a mental injury this usually requires a longer period of time off work for recovery and is almost 2 times amount of a physical injury.

Psychological injury can include post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety caused by events that occurred within the workplace such as bullying or a traumatic event. Many workers suffer both physical and psychological injuries.

Employers do have the ability to rely on a reasonable action defence. Reasonable action has and can be used successfully as a defence; however, it can be difficult for your employer to prove that the action was indeed reasonable. The employer must also prove that the psychological injury was “wholly or predominantly” caused by the reasonable action which can be a challenge.

The following are classes reasonable action:

  • Transfer
  • Demotion
  • Promotion
  • Performance appraisal
  • Discipline
  • Retrenchment
  • Dismissal
  • Provision of employment benefits

If the employer is successful  in proving that your psychological injury was caused by one of the above, this defence unfortunately may render the psychological claim non-compensable.

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Toya Kha
Founding Partner | Public Notary
Tony Chow