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Welcomed changes to occupational disease legislation

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Please note that this post was written for Victorian audiences and the information within may not apply to other regions.

Last week the new Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Act 2022 (the Act) came into effect. Zaparas Lawyers welcome the new Act which in part helps to better account for the progressive nature of silica-related diseases and the uncertainty that further silica-related conditions may develop in a worker’s lifetime by providing further compensation and improving access to compensation.

Among the changes, the Act makes amendments to existing occupational health and safety and WorkCover related legislation to:

  • Expand and improve entitlements for workers with silicosis and similar occupational diseases
  • Extend the presumptive right to compensation for firefighters with certain types of cancer to include vehicle and equipment maintenance employees engaged by the Country Fire Authority and Fire Rescue Victoria
  • Improve entitlements for families of deceased workers
  • Improve responsiveness to occupational health and safety risk and hazards, and increase the prevention of these risks and hazards from occurring

Changes in relation to Silicosis and similar Occupational Diseases

The changes in relation to silicosis and similar occupational diseases recognises the progressive and ongoing nature of these conditions. The changes will commence on 1 July 2022.

  • Injured workers with an eligible progressive disease can now pursue a claim for an impairment benefit lump sum without waiting for their condition to stabilise. This change accounts for the fact that given the nature of progressive conditions; they may not stabilise.
  • Injured workers with an eligible progressive disease can now pursue a further claim for an impairment benefit lump sum where they have suffered further deterioration.
  • Injured workers who receive a lung transplant will be entitled to a deemed minimum 30 per cent assessed impairment.
  • Where an injured worker with a silica-related disease (e.g., silicosis) has pursued lump sum damages, and after receiving those damages subsequently develops another silica-related disease (e.g., lung cancer), they can make a further claim for additional damages.
  • Family members of workers diagnosed with a work-related eligible progressive disease are now able to access up to $6,820 indexed annually in counselling services. Such eligible progressive diseases include:

It should be noted that with respect to claims for impairment benefits, while the changes are intended to be retrospective, they only apply to eligible progressive diseases diagnosed on or after 1 June 2016.

The entitlement to further common law damages for the development of another silica-related disease will apply to any worker with silicosis or a silica-related disease who applies for damages after the commencement of the Act.

Read more about understanding occupational disease risks here.

Expansion of the Firefighters Presumptive Rights Compensation Scheme

The Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation Act 2019 (FPRC Act) has deemed a number of cancers suffered by firefighters as work-related. This means if an operational firefighter had been diagnosed with one of the listed cancers and served the prescribed years, their claim would generally be accepted.

The Act now extends the presumptive right to compensation to cover CFA and FRV vehicle and equipment maintenance employees. Further, the Act changes the method for calculating eligibility qualifying periods to now count part years of service as full years of service, as well as allowing periods of service to be combined.

Read more about the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation here.

Improvements for Families of Deceased Workers

The Act also amends the existing Accident Compensation Act 1985 (AC Act) and the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (WIRC Act) to:

  • Extend the duration of weekly pension payments for children with a disability from ages 16 to 25
  • Enable an appointed guardian to receive provisional payments on behalf of a person with a disability, or who is a minor
  • The family of a deceased worker can continue to receive household help services for six months following the death of the worker (where they died from a work-related injury)
  • Compensation is also now available for costs incurred outside of Australia in relation to a funeral, burial, cremation or repatriation of a deceased worker’s body. Costs can also be covered for family members to travel from overseas to attend the burial or cremation of the deceased worker in Australia. Theses costs are capped at $15,230.

These changes come into effect on 1 July 2022, and will apply to newly accepted claims for support following a workplace death. The children’s entitlement to the pension will apply retrospectively to anyone between the ages of 16 and 25 at the time the changes commence.

Further information

Learn more about the above-mentioned amendments and the additional amendments from the WorkSafe Victoria website.

Zaparas Lawyers have a dedicated team of expert occupational disease lawyers who have seen how traumatic the effects an occupational disease or illness can be on not just the person affected but their family and friends.

If you are a worker and have been diagnosed with an occupational disease, or a family member or dependent of a worker whose death resulted from or is materially contributed to by an occupational disease, one of our expert occupational disease lawyers can advise you of your rights under the WorkCover scheme, including if any of the new changes are applicable to your circumstances.

Trust our family to care for you and contact us today for an obligation free appointment.