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Mental health support for emergency workers

    Victorian emergency workers to receive the mental health support they need
    10 October 2018

    Victorian emergency workers to receive the mental health support they need

    As personal injury lawyers, every day at Zaparas we see a wide variety of people, each of them suffering from unique and life changing injuries. 

    In recent times, as our society has developed a greater awareness of the importance of mental health, we have also seen an increase in those seeking advice on workplace injuries they have suffered that are of a psychological nature. 

    Whilst all workers may suffer a mental health injury in the course of their employment, one segment of workers that is particularly susceptible is that of emergency workers. 

    As you can imagine, a day in the life of an emergency worker can vary wildly. Whilst one moment may be spent educating members of the public on the virtues of community safety, in the very next an emergency worker could be racing to an urgent call, preparing to put their life on the line for others. 

    For some emergency workers, this might mean storming into a burning building, for others it might mean responding to incidents such as the Bourke Street Mall tragedy, not knowing what devastating scenes might await. 

    It is no surprise, then, that emergency workers are six times more likely than other workers to develop a mental health injury. Whether these injuries stem from a specific incident or are the result of an accumulation of years at the forefront of society’s problems, they require prompt and effective treatment, just as we would expect for a physical injury that required surgery.

    It’s because of these circumstances, that initiatives such as those announced by Premier Daniel Andrews recently, that a re-elected Labor Government would provide for provisional acceptance payments to emergency workers for treatment of mental health injuries, are so welcome. 

    Currently, emergency workers must wait for their WorkCover claim to be assessed before they can access financial support to cover the cost of their mental health injury treatment. Often this leads to a situation where an emergency worker may have to pay out of their own pocket to access the immediate treatment they need or put off that treatment altogether until their claim has progressed through the system.

    These new reforms will mean that, under a re-elected Labor Government, emergency workers will have their claim automatically accepted on a provisional basis and be able to access mental health treatment immediately—at no cost to them.

    In addition to automatically accepted claims, another key element to the announced changes is the absence of any ‘cap’ on the amount that will be paid for the mental health treatment required by an emergency worker. 

    Mental health injuries are complex and, like any physical injury, the costs in treating them can increase significantly. Unfortunately, too many emergency workers are forced to bear the cost of the gap between what WorkCover will pay and the actual cost of treatment, a cost that can quickly spiral outside the realm of affordability for most people.

    The removal of caps will mean that WorkCover will now pay the full amount, lessening the financial burden borne by the injured.

    Taken as a whole, these changes will have a significant impact on assisting those at the forefront of emergency work – our paramedics, police, firefighters, SES workers and protective service officers. 

    Further plans to open the Centre of Excellence for Emergency Worker Mental Health and facilitate a Specialist Network of Clinicians are also welcome. Continued efforts in this space are vital to allow injured emergency workers to access the help that they need when they need it most and to end to the stigma associated with mental health injuries.

    Like physical injuries, a mental health injury sustained at work may be compensable. To find out if we can help, contact our WorkCover experts on 1800 ZAPARAS for a cost and obligation free initial consultation.

    If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

    Rebekah Case


    Bendigo Practice Group Leader