Monash-led project aims to improve workers compensation

Wednesday, 25 October, 2023

Monash-led project aims to improve workers compensation

The healthcare and social assistance industry is one of the top three industries with the highest rate of serious workers compensation claims (26,240), according to Safe Work Australia.

A major 2022 study — supported by the University of Sydney, Monash University and Curtin University and funded by the NSW public insurer icare — showed that healthcare and social assistance workers are twice as likely to file a workplace compensation claim for psychological injuries, compared to non-healthcare industries.

Now, a Monash University-led study is set to partner with people who have lived experience of a workers compensation claim in order to design better systems.

Professor Alex Collie from Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine will lead the Australian Research Council-funded Workers’ Voice project in partnership with injured workers and other experts.

Every state and territory in Australia has a workers compensation scheme. There are also three national schemes for Commonwealth government workers, Defence Force personnel and maritime workers.

Professor Collie said there was now strong evidence that Australia’s workers compensation systems were structured and operated in a way that could cause problems for injured workers.

“Many studies in Australia and internationally show that a lot of people find workers compensation stressful and complex, and that for some people this contributes to slower recovery and significant distress,” he said.

“These studies suggest that it is the way workers compensation schemes operate that can lead to problems. The sector has a history of treating injured workers as claims to be managed, rather than as vulnerable people in need of support.”

‘Workers’ Voice: Harnessing lived experience to redesign Australia’s workers’ compensation systems’ will engage workers with physical and psychological injury and illness, and their support networks.

Researchers will work with workers and their supporters to design a workers compensation system that reflects their experiences, views and preferences.

“We think that workers with an injury or illness, their family and friends, have a unique and very valuable experience of workers compensation,” Collie said.

“This experience should be heard and have greater weight in the way systems are designed and the way they operate.”

The research team will use a technique called participatory system modelling to develop and test new design and delivery approaches. The results will provide a vision for a new approach to workers compensation that supports the recovery and return to work of Australians with work-related injury or illness.

“Most of our workers compensation schemes were designed in the 1980s,” Collie said. “The world of work, and the types of injury and illness we see at work, have changed fundamentally. But our systems haven’t kept pace. This project is about re-imagining workers compensation for the future.

“Because workers haven’t been involved in designing compensation schemes before, we don’t really know what solutions will be developed. That is a really exciting part of this project.”

The study also involves the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation, the University of Melbourne and the University of Waterloo, as well as numerous injured worker support groups and networks around Australia.

“Some of our largest workers compensation schemes have been under enormous financial pressure and are struggling to get people back to work,” he said. “To manage their budgets, governments have been cutting benefits and restricting access to these schemes.

“This short-term, knee-jerk reaction to financial pressure creates as many problems as it solves. A better way to improve a system and make it sustainable is to listen carefully to people with direct experience of that system. The Workers’ Voice project provides an opportunity to do just that.”

The Workers’ Voice project is expected to run until 2026, with major findings released periodically, beginning in early 2024.

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