Daily Telegraph

$107m bill for stress

Article by Kelvin Bissett

January 02, 2009

STRESSED-out state public servants have cost taxpayers $107.5 million in just three years but evidence is emerging that recent reforms are finally slashing payouts.

A Daily Telegraphinvestigation into workers compensation claims by the state's bureaucrats reveals 6398 of them have lodged claims for mental stress injury since mid-2005.

Recent changes to workers compensation, including an emphasis on getting injured staff back on the job quickly, have reduced the total bill for stress from $41.9 million in 2005-06 to $26.2 million last year.

Mental stress claims costs averaged $19,473 each in 2005-06. Last year they had slumped to just $12,485.

Stress rates are especially acute in the community services department with claims costing $1.35 million last year exceeding the bills for every other category of injury combined.

Mental stress joins other injury claims - such as falls, being hit by objects and body strains - lodged by 20,102 NSW public servants last year.

Documents released by the NSW Treasury Managed Fund Workers Compensation scheme released under Freedom of Information show that in some agencies there are extraordinary claim statistics.

In one small agency, the Jenolan Caves Trust, there were 15 injury claims for just 48 workers.
Most were for body strains.

Another with a high claim rate is WSN Environmental Solutions, where 387 staff lodged 64 claims.
The NSW Board of Studies, the guardians of the Higher School Certificate, had 30 claims for just 219 staff.

Others with high claim rates include the Juvenile Justice at which 1346 staff lodged 198 claims and Corrective Services with 853 claims for 6762workers.

Claim rates continue to be high, with the 20,102 claims being only slightly down on the 20,246 three years ago.

However, taxpayers benefited as total costs plummeted from $166.3million in 2005-06 to $106.47 million in 2007-08.

A spokesman for Treasurer Eric Roozendaal said the decline in payouts was "outstanding''.

"This is a good result and agencies should be commended for managing their injured employees more effectively,'' the spokesman said.

He said claim managers focused on injury management and rehabilitation so workers can go back to work faster.