Injuries at work aren’t always physical – explaining psychological injury
Published on September 6, 2023 by Julia Harrison
Workplace injuries aren’t always physical, they can also be psychological and have drastic impacts on your mental health and general well-being. This article will explain psychological injuries in NSW workers compensation claims and how whole person impairment (WPI) is assessed under the Psychiatric Impairment Rating Scale (PIRS) table.
Psychological injury in NSW workers compensation claims
Section 4 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW) defines injury as:
4 Definition of “injury”
In this Act—
(a) means personal injury arising out of or in the course of employment,
(b) includes a disease injury, which means—
(i) a disease that is contracted by a worker in the course of employment but only if the employment was the main contributing factor to contracting the disease, and
(ii) the aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation, or deterioration in the course of employment of any disease, but only if the employment was the main contributing factor to the aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation or deterioration of the disease, and
(c) does not include (except in the case of a worker employed in or about a mine) a dust disease, as defined by the Workers’ Compensation (Dust Diseases) Act 1942, or the aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation or deterioration of a dust disease, as so defined.
Psychological injury refers to a diagnosed psychological condition or psychiatric disorder that arises out of, or in the course of, your employment. It must be more than a mere emotional response and you must satisfy that you have a diagnosable psychological condition or psychiatric disorder to be successful in a claim.
Generally, your injury can arise in two different categories:
- A frank injury, which is for example, an injury suffered as a result of being involved in or witnessing a specific traumatic event; or
- A disease injury, which is for example, an injury that is suffered as a result of bullying or harassment within your workplace over an extended period of time. In the alternative, it can also be an aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation, or deterioration of a pre-existing condition as a result of various factors within your workplace.
What types of workplace situations can be considered causes of my psychological injury?
There are many different types of situations that you may have found yourself in within your workplace environment that could be considered to have caused you psychological injury.
They can include things such as:
- Being under resourced;
- Being overworked;
- Being treated unfairly or unjustly;
- Being exposed to, or working in, a hostile workplace environment or culture;
- Being ostracised or singled out.
How is my injury evaluated for whole person impairment lump sum compensation?
The NSW Workers Compensation Guidelines for the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment issued by SIRA sets out how the permanent impairment for psychiatric and psychological disorders are assessed.
The evaluation of your psychiatric impairment must be conducted by a psychiatrist who has undergone the appropriate training in this assessment method. The medical assessor is required to evaluate the behavioural consequences of the disorder based on six (6) categories called the Psychiatric Impairment Rating Scale (PIRS). The 6 categories include:
- Self-care and personal hygiene;
- Social and recreational activities;
- Social functioning (relationships);
- Concentration, persistence and pace;
The PIRS table is a tool that assesses the severity of your psychological injury and determines your corresponding compensation entitlements. It consists of a series of categories that measure the degree of impairment and its impact on your daily life.
Within each category the behaviour is classified ranging from Class 1 to Class 5, Class 1 being minor impairment and Class 5 being totally impaired. For example, the PIRS for self-care and personal hygiene is as follows:
The assessment is then a two-step procedure. The medical assessor will rank you in each category to determine your median class score and then calculate the aggregate score.
For example, once a class score has been arranged for all six areas of functioning, the six scores are arranged from lowest to highest. The median is then calculated by averaging the two middle scores. If a score falls between two class, for example, 3 and 4, then it is rounded up to the next class.
Each median class score represents a range of impairment:
- Class 1 = 0 -3%
- Class 2 = 4 -10%
- Class 3 = 11-30%
- Class 4 = 31-60%
- Class 5 = 61-100%
In order to determine an exact percentage of impairment, an aggregate score needs to be calculated. For example, using numbers of 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, as an example for each category, the aggregate score would be, 2 + 2 + 3 + 3 + 4 + 5 = 19.
Using the Conversion Table that is provided for the assessment, it is then converted to a percentage score. This example converts to 24% whole person impairment as it is a Median Class of 3. As mentioned above, this rating scale can only be completed by a qualified psychiatrist. However, the scale relates mainly to the function of you as the injured worker.
If you believe you have sustained a psychiatric or psychological injury as a result of your employment or are unsure if you might have an entitlement, you can contact us at Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers on 1800 059 278 or via our Contact Page and one of our lawyers will assist you. It is a complex area of law and it is important to seek legal advice to ensure you have investigated your entitlement to compensation.