A work-related disease is any acute, recurrent or chronic health condition caused or worsened by work conditions or practices.
In 2015-2016, approximately 10,880 compensations payouts were made to assist Australians with work-related diseases. The most common claims were for mental disorders, followed by digestive system diseases, and skin and tissue diseases, with workers losing an average of 9.2 weeks to their illness. Financial losses and the associated reduced quality of life can be highly-distressing, particularly during a period of illness recovery. For this reason, financial compensation can make an important difference during the recovery and return-to-work period. Compensation can also act as a safeguard when work-related illnesses reoccur.
Regardless of the occupation or type of engagement (e.g. full-time, casual, contract), all workers have a right to a safe working environment, and all effort should be made by employers, industries, unions, organisations and governments to protect workers from harm. However, work-related illness and injury can happen to anyone. In response, the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022, a SafeWork Australia initiative, was developed to promote safe, healthy and productive workplaces with a specific aim of reducing rates of work-related injury, illness and fatality. The strategy highlighted hazardous industries with high rates of injury and/or fatality:
- Road transport
- Accommodation & food services
- Public administration & safety
- Health care & social assistance
Data reveals that mental health conditions, digestive system diseases, cancers (including skin cancer and asbestos-related cancers), lung diseases, dermatitis, and noise-induced hearing loss are of particular concern. Consequently, the SafeWork strategy is aimed at reducing rates of work-related illness by working collaboratively with industry, government, unions and other organisations.
Undeniably, safe workplaces can only be achieved when health and safety is supported by an organisation’s culture, and when effective procedures and processes are established and followed. Therefore, the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy has proposed seven action areas:
- Hazards are eliminated or minimised by design. Designing new plant equipment and technology, and creating job processes that maximise safety can reduce major physical and psychological risks. Workplaces also have an obligation to make reasonable return-to-work adjustments that make use of safe design.
- Improved work health and safety through supply chains and networks. Commercial and business relationships require the safe movement of goods and services. These relationships must be managed in order to maximise safety for workers.
- Improved work health and safety capabilities. Organisation leaders and workers require the knowledge, skills and resources to create a safe workplace and to make informed decisions about safety matters. Resources (e.g. training and education) must also be available so that work health safety regulators are able to effectively perform their role.
- Leaders in communities and organisations promote a positive culture for health and safety. Organisations must commit to the systematic management of risks, consultation and training, promote an environment of dignity, respect and positive leadership, and minimise bullying, harassment and occupational violence.
- Evidence-informed policy, programs and practice. Increases in research funding that lead to practical results are required. Organisations benefit from access to research that allows them to better understand current hazard exposures, the effectiveness of controls, and attitudes towards health and safety.
- Governments improve work health and safety. A Government’s role is to provide regulation, information and education.
- Responsive and effective regulatory frameworks. Regulatory frameworks should be designed, reviewed and monitored to improve effectiveness and responsiveness to changing circumstances. The relationships between regulators and health and safety stakeholders should be effective, constructive, transparent and accountable.
Despite increased awareness of the importance of creating healthy and safe workplaces, work-related illness remains a significant burden for sufferers. Lost income, medical expenses, including hospital treatment, medications, and other allied health professionals, and the costs of returning to work can lead to reduced quality of life. In addition, illness can place a burden on loved-ones. Therefore, it is important to claim workers compensation to support you throughout your recovery and return-to-work. While the process of claiming compensation may feel overwhelming, you do not need to do it on your own. It is important to seek expert legal assistance to help you through the process and to ensure that you are receiving all the compensation you deserve.