Public servants’ mental stress claims spiralling

by Chloe Taylor30 Jul 2015
The public service’s annual Comcare bill for bullying, harassment and “occupational violence” is approaching $80 million, The Canberra Times has revealed.

Trauma arising from workplace bullying or violence now makes up the largest proportion of mental stress compensation claims among public servants, the latest data from Comcare shows.

These claims are reportedly costing on average $342,000 each – but there have been almost 500 mental stress claims by public servants over the past five years with a price tag of $500,000 or more.

According to The Times, mental harm claims have increased by 88% since 2009, while nearly two in five claimants last year said that bullying or harassment from colleagues had left them unable to work.

The same number of public servants cited workplace stress as the cause of their psychological problems.

A further 8% of mental stress claimants said they had been traumatised by “exposure to workplace or occupational violence”.

It was predicted that the 233 claims linked to bullying or violence accepted in 2013-14 will cost a total of more than $79 million.

With bills to government departments increasing by 20% in 2013-14, departmental heads are reportedly on strict notice that poor performance in preventing workplace injuries and getting employees back to work will hit their bottom lines.

Since 2009, 22% of the individual mental stress claims made by public servants have cost more than $500,000, compared to just 3.5% of the claims made for body stressing (injuries which cover common aches and pains such as back strain).

However, body-stressing claims have also been increasing in recent years.

Comcare has consequently launched a campaign to get public servants out of their seats more often, targeting the “sedentary” workplace behaviour which has been linked to the rising rates of body-stressing claims.

The Stand Up Comcare campaign provides fact sheets and guides for managers and team leaders on strategies to get their public servants out of their seats. It also distributes posters to government workplaces, which warn workers of the dangers of prolonged sitting.

“Comcare actively promotes strategies to reduce sedentary behaviour in workplaces and encourages the use of sit-to-stand workstations,” a Comcare spokesman told Fairfax Media. “We use this type of workstation in our own office locations.”

“Comcare has conducted successful campaigns and seminars to promote research on the benefits of alternating sitting and standing in the work environment.

“Prolonged sitting is a risk that employers should consider in their work health and safety policies and practices.”
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