Mental stress claims are more expensive, SafeWork finds

WCD Workers Compensation Stress FressIn a recent report into work-related mental health, SafeWork Australia has found that mental stress claims were considerably more expensive than other workers’ compensation claims. Releasing the report, entitled The Incidence of Workers’ Compensation Claims for Mental Stress in Australia, SWA Chair, Ann Sherry AO, highlighted the cost to workers of mental stress claims. “The personal impact of mental stress on workers is a serious and detrimental issue to the worker and their families and also employers,” she said. “Typically mental stress claims result in workers being absent from the workplace for long periods of time.”

“The loss of productivity and absence of workers is costing Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year.” The report, which was released this month, found that mental stress accounted for an average of 95% of mental disorder claims over the past 10 years. It also noted that work-related mental stress claims are the most expensive form of workers compensation claim because of the often lengthy periods of absence from work typical of these claims.

“Besides the burden work-related mental stress places on the health and welfare of employees, the impact on productivity of workplaces and the Australian economy is substantial,” the report stated. Other key findings of the report included: Mental stress claims were predominantly made by women. Men and women were more likely to make a claim for mental stress as they got older but after they reached 54 years the likelihood that they made a claim decreased.

  • More professionals made claims for mental stress than other any other occupation, with over a third of their claims made for “work pressure”.
  • There were more mental stress claims made for “work pressure” than any other subcategory, with “bullying and harassment” coming in at second place.
  • The hazards that result in mental stress claims vary with worker age, with younger workers more likely to make claims as a result of “exposure to workplace or occupational violence”, and “work pressure” being the main cause of mental stress claims for older workers.
  • “Work pressure” claims peaked for workers aged between 45–49 years.
  • General clerks, school teachers and police officers accounted for the majority of claims for “work pressure”.
  • Women were around three times more likely than men to make a workers compensation claim due to work-related harassment and/or workplace bullying.
  • Approximately one-third of all claims in this mental stress subcategory were made by workers in the occupational categories of “advanced clerical & service workers” and “general clerks”.
  • For the industries with the highest number/rate of mental stress claims, the majority of claims were for “work pressure”. This was particularly true in the education sector.
  •  Claims for “exposure to workplace or occupational violence” were most prevalent in the retail trade industry, while the transport & storage and health & community services industries dominated claims for “exposure to a traumatic event”.

The report used data from successful mental health claims. However, SWA noted that it was difficult to know exactly how many employees experienced mental stress at any given time because it did not have any information on unsuccessful claims, any insight into the number of workers who experience mental stress but choose not to claim workers’ compensation or information on workers who were not covered by compensation.

“This means that the workers’ compensation data are skewed towards those workers who are more likely to claim based on their occupation, age, industry of employer, and where they have secure employment,” SWA noted.

“The full extent of mental stress in Australian workplaces (prevalence) is not known but is likely to be greater than indicated by workers’ compensation statistics because not all workers with mental stress apply for or receive compensation for their illness. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Work-related Injuries Survey 2009–10 showed that 70% of workers who reported they experienced work-related mental stress did not apply for workers’ compensation,” the report concluded.

The report also found that casual workers were significantly more likely to report suffering from mental stress, and they were also significantly less likely to bring a claim. The Incidence of Workers’ Compensation Claims for Mental Stress in Australia is available on the SafeWork Australia website.

REF: CCH 15th April 2013