National snapshot: COVID-19-related workers compensation claims

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has published a snapshot of coronavirus (COVID-19) related workers compensation claims data, up to 31 July 2020. Collected from the relevant Commonwealth, state and territory workers compensation authorities, the data reveals that 533 workers compensation claims related to COVID-19 were lodged in Australia. Of those claims, 34% related to the mental health impacts of COVID-19. Additionally, 34% of the claims lodged were from the healthcare and social assistance industry, while 17% of the claims came from the public administration and safety industry. The ‘community and personal service workers’ occupation has the highest number of workers compensation claims.

“The snapshot provides some preliminary evidence that COVID-19 is affecting Australian workers in a variety of ways — not just through workers contracting the virus, but through mental health and testing-related impacts as well,” SWA Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter said about the significance of the snapshot. “Employers should ensure these risks are considered as part of their obligation to keep their workers safe.

“Australia’s model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws require employers to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workers, including themselves and other staff, contractors and volunteers, and others (clients, customers, visitors) at the workplace. This existing duty applies to the new risks arising from COVID-19,” Baxter said. “It is important to note that this dataset covers COVID-19 related workers compensation claims up to 31 July 2020, therefore the report does not cover the extent of the most recent COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria that commenced in late June 2020,” Baxter said.

SWA does not determine a worker’s coverage or eligibility for workers compensation benefits or manage workers compensation claims and return to work programs. Workers compensation arrangements are the responsibility of the relevant workers compensation authority in each jurisdiction. However, as Baxter explained, SWA “has several functions related to workers compensation, including developing national policy and carrying out research to provide evidence on the state of work health and safety in Australia”.

“Data on workers compensation claims provides an indicator of work health and safety performance,” Baxter said. “Understanding the causes of injury and the industries and occupations most affected can help reduce work-related fatalities, injuries and disease.” Information to support employers to understand their duties under the WHS laws and how workplaces can keep safe from the risks of COVID-19 is available here, on SWA’s website.

“Employers need to, in consultation with workers and their representatives, look at the way they work,” Baxter said. “They need to identify and manage risks arising from COVID-19, implement control measures to address those risks and review them regularly. Maintaining physical distancing, regular cleaning and ensuring people stay home when unwell and practise good hygiene are crucial to ensure workplace safety.”

In the snapshot, the data is provided by claim type, industry, occupation, age, gender and jurisdiction. SWA will continue to collect data on COVID-19 related workers compensation claims and plans to publish an updated report in early 2021, Baxter advised.

Source: NSCA Foundation

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