Analysis undertaken by Queensland-based compensation law firm, Travis Schultz & Partners (TSP), has revealed an unnerving trend, with WorkCover claims increasing significantly in the 2020/21 financial year, up 4.9 and 7.7 per cent for statutory and common law claims respectively on the previous year.
Special Counsel and Manager of the TSP Brisbane office, Trent Johnson, said despite the expected surge in claim lodgements by those most commonly exposed to the virus such as healthcare and social assistance workers the data was still surprising in circumstances during a time when Queenslanders were in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Throughout that year, Queensland workers sanitized and hand washed like their lives depended upon it, and Glen20 became an office fixture alongside Dettol and Domestos,” Mr Johnson said.
“Yet for all of our concern about health and hygiene, we have seen a reversal of the steady downward trend in statutory claims and an increasing trajectory in common law claims.
“It begs the question – have Queensland employers been too concerned about resourcing COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing, sanitizer and face masks to be worried about maintaining and improving existing safety standards in the workplace?,” he said.
“Has the distraction of a pandemic wound back the clock and meant that workers in Queensland are now more exposed than prior to COVID-19 to suffering potentially life-changing injury in their workplaces?”
The annual WorkCover report shows statutory claim lodgements for 2020/21 of 94,502 (up from 90,064 in 2019/20) and common law (i.e. negligence) claims of 3,232 in 2020/21 (up from 3,001 in 2019/20). The statutory claim rate between the two years has also increased 5.9 per cent, up from 35.4 to 37.5 claims per 1,000 employed people.
“All this during a time when industry had slowed and workplaces across the country were largely deserted for a considerable part of the year,” Mr Johnson said.
In June 2021, the Families in Australia Survey: Towards COVID Normal* found that among the employed survey respondents, 67% were sometimes or always working from home, compared to 42% pre-COVID. In addition, data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found more than 40 per cent of employed people were regularly working from home at the time of survey in August 2021**.
“Workplace health and safety laws don’t come to an end just because an employee works from home,” Mr Johnson said.
“The latest WorkCover figures could be due to Covid-19 claims or maybe there is another reason that we need to explore.
“Whichever way you look at it, the increase in claims is a very real concern and a trend which needs to be investigated” he said.
Mr Johnson said what was particularly concerning about the figures is that over the five years leading up to 2021 there had been a reduction in claim lodgements (4.1 per cent) and the statutory claim rate had also reduced over that period (down 10.5 per cent).
“A reversal in trend is a red flag and attention needs to be paid,” Mr Johnson said.
“Managing the COVID-19 crisis is a ball all employers need to keep in the air, but they cannot afford to drop the ball by ignoring their other existing workplace health and safety obligations,” he said.