The Queensland Government has presented a Bill to Parliament today that amends the state’s workers’ compensation scheme for first responders.
Industrial Relations Minister, Grace Grace said changes to the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 would see presumptive workers’ compensation laws included for emergency workers diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“Each and every day, our first responders are exposed to traumatic incidents that most of us could never imagine,” Ms Grace said.
“Attending these types of incidents, whether it be one catastrophic event or a gradual build up over many years, can take a toll on our first responders’ mental health.
“We acknowledge the vital work performed by our first responders and the impact exposure to trauma can have on their wellbeing and their families.”
Ms Grace said the new laws would mean first responders and other prescribed workers and volunteers who are simultaneously struggling to cope with PTSD would not have to prove their injury is work-related.
“It will automatically be presumed to be work related, unless an employer is able to show that the worker’s PTSD was not actually caused by their job,” she said.
“PTSD can cause many first responders to lose their work, their family and their wellbeing.
“Bringing in presumptive workers’ compensation laws for first responders who have developed PTSD as a result of the unique nature of their duties is vital for their long-term mental health, rehabilitation and safe return to work.”
She said the changes followed an independent review of Queensland’s workers’ compensation process and national reviews into first responder mental health by Beyond Blue and a Commonwealth Senate inquiry.
A stakeholder reference group of unions, employers and WorkCover Queensland has been established to develop an action plan to improve the workers’ compensation experience and mental health outcomes for first responders.
Ms Grace said the group identified several areas to improve a first responders’ experience across the whole claims process – from entry into the scheme, to improving rehabilitation and return to work opportunities.
“One significant barrier for first responders using the existing scheme was the claims determination phase, in particular the legislative test for injury,” Ms Grace said.
“Due to cumulative exposure to trauma in first responders, there is sometimes no one single event the worker can pinpoint that contributed to their condition.
“This could result in delays as well as unnecessary investigations.”
“Under our revised approach, it will be much easier for first responders to come forward and seek treatment early.
“It will also go a long way to reducing the stigma first responders have about the impact of a claim on their job prospects, or how they are perceived in their workplace.
“This new approach will apply to first responders such as police, ambulance, paramedics, firefighters, child safety officers, correctional officers, emergency nurses and medical practitioners.
“Other workers in first responder agencies whose role involves experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to traumatic events, like emergency dispatchers, are also covered.”
The Minister said that due to the nuances of how PTSD may present, particularly where there has been cumulative trauma, and to optimise treatment and rehabilitation, a diagnosis of PTSD must be made by a psychiatrist. She said where required, insurers would support first responders in obtaining the diagnosis.