Some families in South Australia blame WorkCover for their partners’ suicides

In January 2010, Today Tonight in South Australia aired a disturbing report about the workers compensation reforms in that State.  It talks to two widows who blame WorkCover SA as contributing to their husbands’ suicides.  One man left a suicide note explicitly blaming WorkCover SA, emphasising his point by jumping to his death from the sixth floor of the WorkCover office building.

The video report is available HERE under the title WorkCover Suicide.

One of those interviewed in the story is Kevin Purse who undertook a report into the SA workers’ compensation system on behalf of SA Unions.  His report is very useful as it indicates some of the risks to workers’ entitlements that may result from trying to harmonise workers’ compensation across the country.  [Editor’s Note:  Kevin Purse has identified in a comment below that the report quoted here is from 2007 and that Kevin’s opinion has changed since.  We are endeavoring to locate the most recent report and apologise to Kevin and readers] Just as New South Wales unions are insisting that elements of their State’s OHS laws be retained, so business is likely to insist on using the lowest worker benefits as a benchmark for harmonisation.

In the report Purse says

“By any objective standard, South Australia’s lacklustre workers’ compensation performance is attributable to poor management by WorkCover and its former claims agents rather than the level of entitlements available to injured workers.  The core problem has been the ongoing failure to manage the rehabilitation and return to work process. It also includes the failure to ensure that employers comply with their return to work obligations.  Having said that, WorkCover’s new claims agent EML needs to be given a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate that it is capable of improving the scheme’s performance.” [emphasis added]

It is refreshing to hear someone giving Employers Mutual Limited a fair go.  The report emphasises that the SA scheme is faltering because of poor management:

“Attempts to blame injured workers for the scheme’s shortcomings though are no more than a diversion from the real issues. It is all too easy to paper over management cracks by slashing workers’ entitlements.  This has explicitly been acknowledged by senior executives of Victoria’s WorkCover Authority who have frequently emphasised the importance of achieving substantial improvements in scheme performance without resorting to cuts in workers’ payments or hikes in employer premiums.

This is the approach that should be adopted in South Australia. ………

There is also merit in reassuring the employer community that the government has no intention of increasing average premium rates in the foreseeable future. …”

The debate on the future of workers’ compensation will continue to jostle between the financial interests of business and the social impact on workers.  Workers’ compensation is part of the rehabilitation process and returning workers to a fulfilling job and meaningful work is paramount.  But there are going to be workers who will never be able to return to work and it is in this context that workers’ compensation becomes a social security.

As illustrated in one of the examples in the Today Tonight video, being injured at work in an incident not of one’s own fault should not lead to a life of poverty.  It seems that the lack of hope of having a meaningful life is what is pushing injured workers to end their lives.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

27 thoughts on “Some families in South Australia blame WorkCover for their partners’ suicides”

  1. Well i have read them all and have been on workcover since aprill 9th 2009 ,its coming up to 4 years in aprill 2013 .I am on 80% of my wages and have been for a long time ,my injury is a prolapse vertabrae causeing decrease power in my right shoulder and arm ,i have had 24 case mangers since being of work , yet they have the proof that i will never work in my job again as a painter and decorator and with the injury i have cant be operated to be fixed cause it cant be fixed ,so im in constant pain everyday take tablets i never had to before the injury and i have this till the day they put me down the hole .I have had every type of case manger nationallity you could think of and not one has ever helped in anyway positive ,,they write me a letter saying case manger has been changed ,i am such and such it says i will ring and speak with you in a few days, out of the 24 i have had only 4 rang me and that was at the start of my workcover .I have a house to pay i have two kids 1aged 7 the other aged 14 ,its so hard on the bullshit money we get each week and all i want to know is what the hell are they gona do with me . Best thing is give me a redemtion payout and let me get on with my life but no they just linger on week after week going nowhere ,i get so angry and frustrated at the way the system is for injured workers ,it needs to be reviewed heaps,

  2. When you hear of yet another suicide due to injured workers being bullied, harassed and pushed into corners of financial ruin, emotional breakdowns and depression, the thought of taking their own lives seems a better outcome, is absolutely heart breaking.

    Let’s think for a minute…how would you cope with not only a debilitating injury but your lifestyle, freedom and mental health going down the drain as the days roll by?

    Now let’s think about the family and friends of the injured worker…having to watch their loved one constantly fighting a battle that cannot be won because the insurance companies have the final say.

    The system is there to help injured workers return to work and support them in this process.

    Instead we hear of people being forced to return to work even whilst there injury is still not completely resolved, causing further injury. Having to sell their houses just to get by, even having to file for bankruptcy. Why is this so?

    The `system’ is failing our people and failing our rights as Australian workers.

    People say that it is because of the system not being honest and straight forward with what our rights are as workers. Some believe it’s the system constantly changing to suit itself.

    Where do we turn when the system that is there for us is the same system that discriminates against us?

  3. Mel you need ot know how to play the game, their way!!!
    They will try and evade any responsibilities or obligations they may have..
    Stand up for your husbands rights..Firm and strong..
    As for driving him around, refuse to do so as of today..
    Make him catch a taxi and make WorkCover pay for it..
    Daycare also. Cleaner etc..
    Only when they start to have to pay their way will they learn that driving injured workers in to the ground is not the accepted thing…its not the aussie way..Fair go for injured workers and tell all the case managers most of whom are from non english speaking backgrounds( ie they are mostly wogs) that your husband deserves better and he is not going to get better unless he is properly rehabilitated and that will not happen while he is in the WorkCover wringer..many who give up allowed workcover to walk on them, once they take the first step they will run all over you..
    Check the case of Thompson v duffin and workcover v thompson ..the courts also refused to make judgments on his matter as they were too damning of the corporation..

  4. Hi All,
    Just a note on the other side of the workcover issue. My partner injured himself 18months ago at work. 3 weeks after the injury we had our second child. After being pushed out of the doctor\’s surgery week after week with packs of panadine forte and being told that give it another 2 weeks and come see me again. Due to POOR management and TOO many people being involved treatments where getting changed and people where not communicating. At one stage 11 people where working on my partners case. He complained again and again about another injury that he was feeling due to compensating for the original injury. It was put on the back burner and ignored. 14 months after the original injury his other leg crumbled under pressure.
    Now enough about the injury and LACK of treatment, his mental state has been questioned MANY of times. What work cover has failed to realise is what about the effect on the rest of the family?? I had to return to work within 4 months of having a c-section to due to pay cuts. I got 4 months home with my daughter. Our 7yr old and now 18month old girls can\’t remember last time dad played ball. They can\’t work out why sometimes we have to stay home cause dad\’s legs are sore. My 7yr old struggles with the fact dad\’s medication makes him just want to sleep, so he doesn\’t take it and then is grumpy and moody. At the moment I am currently being treated for depression due to trying to spread myself to thin. At present I am a mum of 2 kids, a carer for my husband, housewife, taxi ( for ALL the appointments) and working full time. As bad as it sounds and I guess as selfish as I may sound \” What about me??\” My partner is getting rehab to return to work at this rate by the time his done I\’m going to be in a mental insituation or that run down I am beyond repair aswell. Why does workcover not offer support for partners??

  5. Just a correction I get under 3/4 of my original income. They didn\’t take into account the time i missed because of my work relaited stress therefore the income average was incorrect. I can not just go and get another job anywher as my knee injuries no longer allow me to scaffold or do Rigging work and the general crane hire companys don\’t have the steps added to their Franna Cranes wich is the only crane now im allowed to operate. It was not practical for the company to modify the other cranes for me. They called that return to previuos injury duties infact i lost a lot of work ability. My Future work prospects in the same field are basicaly none. My morgage (Home) on the line. My whole life has been turned upside down, Because the company has been getting away with its OH&S obligations.

  6. Workcover do very little to help workers with mental illness. Im off work now and have been since the start of the year, I was a pre injured worker and returned to work with modifications and restricted duties, But I was put in a situation where they had me taking 60 mg of Cymbalta and Driving Cranes then they made me operate the crane (out of service) for 4 weeks at a mine site owned by BHP (not the company i work for) I work for a contract company.
    I had alarms going off in the crane and the operations cutting out on me while trying to operate it. My intergrety was undermined and i felt powerless to do anything after reporting it and entering all info in the log book i got Scapegoated, It got shuffled between my crane cordinatior our site superintendent and my direct supervisor and the mechanics. I was told just get in the F—-n thing and drive it.
    I informed the CFMEU of all this amoung other stuff and they said what do you want us to do about it? (9 years a member in this state)
    The work loads and time frames was unrealistic with new procedures that BHP bought in.
    I could not afford to loose my job as my missus just had open heart surgery not long after the first incedent and is a Diabetic type 1Plus we bought a home here and have a morgage.
    I informed Safe work SA and they have not been there yet.
    It is my understanding that all the cranes on site did have an inspection wich none of about 30-40 cranes (all of them) did not pass.
    I bought up a safety issue, nothing got done i was undermined, Bullyed, and scapegoated and put on anti depressants i should never have been on.
    I attempted to take my life and swallowed heaps of those pills before ending up in hospital with the police.
    work cover have not even exepted my claim yet and im only getting 1/4 of my income wich was not calculated correct to begin with i lost 9 weeks pay given incorrect info from the company and a run around.
    I want others to suffer with me now.
    So i have to move away because the constant thoughts of hurting people etc are in my head all the time, Im angry, like the living dead also because no one asked my missus if she was ok or offered support.
    Workcover stopped payment to my councilor, I haven\’t been back since. I was without transport for a long time and own now more than ever on my credit card. I\’ll end up bankrupt and im not sticking around for that day and i will take people with me. Blame workcover.

    BHP preach Zero harm and yet this stuff happens all the time.

  7. I was totally oblivious to this incident of suicide at the time I went into the Riverside building last Feb to attempt suicide by trying to jump from the same floor as in this case. My case is simular to Brodie Panlock who was bullied by her work mates and her employer where they push her into taking her own life. I received sexual requests from my employers phone and had every entitlement taken away even having lost RDO\’s, holiday pay, weekend pay also had to sign away my sick leave and even had my superannuation cut. After being humiliated and bullied I tried to end my life while employed driving a 42 tonne truck this putting other road users lifes at risk. WORKCOVER used my employer to negotiate a payout for injuries the same injuries that had forced me to retire at an early age on the disability pension. What I did get in the way of a payout worked out a one of payment of $416.00 more than I would have recieved on the dole for six months less than a weeks wage. SAFEWORK SA so far refuse to take action against my employer I have come to the conclusion that for them to take action I have to work up the courage to Kill myself. Regards Pat

  8. i read with interest some of the replies from different political parties. a lot of the time whoever the minister concerened is only told what in my case the hospital wants to tell them. my case above \”march 2 2010\” when the changes came about i asked a few questions got the pamphlet that were avaiable which werent all that clear for my partiular case. i could not get answers i emailed the health minister concerned as i really did not get any answers he, from what i iunderstand hand passed it onto the industrial relations minister who intern must have contacted the CNAHS rehab manager i was invited to a meeting was handed the pamphlets i already had was promised things that never happened or happened once or twice. i sometime later emailed with my cocerns still and got a letter back from the minister saying that i had been to a meeting and he was told it had been cleared up which obviously had not, So whoever gets pass the post in march has to fix in my case Royal Adelaide Hospitals return to work system. i would be sure that the hospital could find people who have no complaints about the system and of course nothing will happen

  9. Kevin Purse, As much as i admire your work, but when I get letter box drops from Steph Key of what the Labor government has done, she fails to mention how they have allowed mis management of the workcover scheme to ruin injured workers lives.

  10. Kevin Purse and Jones,

    I am deeply saddened by this report, I am left wondering what our workplaces are doing when Humaness is lost in the degradation of their self esteem and self worth. When a system that is supposed to protect and support lets people down to the point that sees them taking their lives….then that is more than tragedy it is a crime.

    Suicide leaves many families so bereft when a loved one dies, and while there is a belief that there is no stigma attached to suicide in our modern society, I believe that it is alive and well.

    I see a number of families who have had the courage to speak out when a loved one has died in this manner. Yet many experience the shame that comes with it, and they push through this to look for ways to find a sense of dignity for the person who has died.

    In our \”enlightened\” society, what are we doing when people die with deep despair from bullying, and harrassment and total lack of support?

    Is if fear that keeps those who work in the system, and is it lack of training to support those who deal with the injured, the bullied and the harrassed that creates the fear?

  11. Kevin Purse must be congratulated on his studies on the problems of WorkCover. Having said that, and being a long term Labor voter. I will not be supporting Steph Key at this years election after what Labor has done to mask the WorkCover problems.

  12. It is no wonder injured workers resort to extremes given the bully tactics WorkCover use.

    I was forced to sell my family home in 2005 because WOrkCover had ceased my weekly income maintenance, interestingly stated by a WorkCover employee \”lawully or otherwise\”.

    WorkCover prosecuted me alleging I was never injured or if I was injured recovered. The whole case was thrown out in SEptember 2009 with the Full court making various adverse comments against the conduct of the prosecution and the failure to provide evidence during the trial. There was findings throughout that I suffered depression and yet WorkCover continued their relentless attack against me.

    I have sympathy for others when I look at my situation.
    Its been five years since I was forced to sell my family home to fund the litigation. Its been nearly 6 months since the Full Court awarded me indemnity costs for the prosecution,
    I am still waiting and arguing with them for travel expenses for attending appointments at Medical Appointments five years ago and they owe me income maintenance after they unlawfully stopped it in 2004. They have not yet paid my costs, my travel expemses or paid me the income minateance they owe me fomr the last 5 years.

    How is such unconsiconable conduct by a corporation even remotely consistent with the rehabilitation of an injured worker? They simply refuse to pay what they are due to pay, their negotiation skills are almost non existent and all they think about is saving dollars by holding out and forcing injured workers into financial hardship.

    One wonders how the new legislation will make things better where injured workers will have their income maintenance stopped and be forced to argue for years on end for it to be reinstated and the corporation will simply hold out in their negotiations until the worker accepts a lesser sum or succumbs to the pressure and gives up.

  13. WOW I hope the media report from this informed debate, unfunded liability of near 1.5 billion should be of concern to all South Australians, even if workers rights mean nothing, the whole system is a mess, I would be looking to the board for structural biases, and EML in regards to their performance, Blaming injured workers for what can only be described as inept management, is nothing but passing the buck.

    With reported figures of a mere 1% in false claims, too much money and resources are wasted over investigating for a start, I was bemused that the Liberals offer of reduced contributions and the promotion of self insuring in any way would benefit suffering workers, seems both sides of politics have it wrong.

    From my investigations there are way too many Labor connections in the system, from the board to the contractors, the system is top heavy and in desperate need of a complete overhaul and some simplification.

    Injured workers need easier access to support services, and some reliable contacts in the system, rather than the ever changing staff caused by lack of genuine compassion inherent through out workcover itself.

  14. Kevin

    Thanks for pointing out my error. I am seeking additional and more current information on the issue.

    The article Kevin Purse refers to was published in December 2009 and entitled \”Outsourcing Myths and Workers\’ Compensation Claims Administration\”. If any readers have a copy, please contact me offline.

    Kevin Jones

  15. Kevin,

    Your blog entry on WorkCover related suicides in South Australia mentions a consultancy report I prepared for SA Unions. In doing so you referred to some comments I made about giving WorkCover’s sole claims agent, EM L, a fair go. Unfortunately you quoted from the wrong report! The report you cited was from a report commissioned in 2007, shortly after EM L‘s appointment. At that time EML was entitled, in my view, to the benefit of the doubt. Since then, however, its performance has left a lot to be desired.

    As with many other observers of WorkCover’s operations I now regard EML as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Despite assurances from WorkCover to the contrary, EML’s appointment has not resulted in lower claims administration costs, liability reduction targets being met or, as far as I’m aware, any improvement in service delivery to injured workers. If anything it’s got worse, arguably a lot worse. EML’s performance confirms the view that outsourcing by WorkCover of its core business – claims management – has been an ongoing debacle.

    If you’re interested in further details I’ve recently published a research piece on WorkCover’s outsourcing experience in the Australian Journal of Public Administration (Vol. 68:4).

    As for the spate of WorkCover related suicides we’ve recently witnessed in South Australia it’s essential that voices like yours continue to be heard. Otherwise this profoundly disturbing issue will remain invisible at a time when action is required to prevent any further tragedies occurring.

    Keep up the good work!

    Kevin Purse

  16. Since coming into parliament in 2006 I have been both disturbed and distressed with the conduct that workCover is able to get away with.

    I have heard stories of bullying, intimidation and harrassment along with file tampering. I have raised these issues many times in parliament and am astounded at the lack of interest shown in what can only be described as corruption, but corruption that is now reported to be common place among most government agencies and statutory authorities. With so many marginalized and victimized by so many systems is it any wonder that the call for an Independent Commission Against Crime and corruption has now overwhelmingly become a loud cry.

    Last year both the Liberal and Labor parties joined forces to push through legislation with \”no amendments\” being accepted. They had done their deals and there was no room for consideration of the plight of injured workers. The changes we said to be necessary to reduce the unfunded liability of this fund yet that unfunded liability continues to rise.

    Blame the global financial crisis, blame the injured workers – blame anyone or anything but the mismanagement of this statutory authority that appears to be able to functioin above the law and no Minister will stand up and take responsibility or be accountable.

    We lack leadership and we lack best practice in governance and as a result we have innocent people suffering. Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable. This state comes up very short.

  17. To stand at a funeral and know that the man in the coffin immediatly behind me should have been looking forward to opening Christmas presents with his grandson instead of being in a coffin. To stand and look at the mans widow, family and friends and try to find words that ease their pain was beyond me.

    Injured workers have no say in what their case managers will or will not agree to, or pay for or approve of. But injured workers are blamed for all that is wrong within the system.

    Stories I hear every day break my heart, people so bereft of hope for a future for themselves let alone for their children.
    One rural based lone father wonders just how his son will be able to afford to go to university next year on a full grant, the cost of living will still have to be paid for, the father is on WorkCover and struggles now just to cover the cost of living where the family home is.
    Other injured workers wonder how they are going to cover the current school fees for primary school children.

    Pressure on injured workers is so great, not only do they have the ever changing WorkCover process to cope with, they have every normal day to day pressure that require 100% income to be covered by 80% of their income.

    Work Injured Resource Connection is in place to help as much as is possible without any help from the WorkCover system.
    I just hope that this year I will not need to stand at yet another suicide funeral.
    Sadly the work that I do tells me that the chances of a year free of WorkCover suicides is truely wishful thinking.

  18. Kevin
    got this link sent to me from WIRC Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson [] i did see the todaytoight is not only EML i was working as nurse injured myself there own system for \”Exempt empolyers\” \’particularly in the hospital i was working was not real helpful it all cam down to the money they would have to spend i wanted to work, my return to work plan was outsourced to 2 private companys over the 2 and half years i was on the meery go round i was becoming angry and annoyed and in the end i took a termanation package i am 54 i would still like to work but i really dont think my options look real good. i send you the link above if you wish to look at it

    tony barnett

    1. Tony, thanks for commenting.

      Several companies and organisations over my working life have used the tactic of increasing stress and uncertainty to have an employee \”move on\”. It often takes great courage and patience to persist in an uncomfortable employment relationship in order to exercise one\’s rights or to keep doing a job one loves.

      The concept of a \”Targeted Voluntary Separation Package\” is very concerning

      Redeployment or resignation through attrition is a very disruptive management tactic and it may be a tactic that insurers apply in workers compensation.

  19. Kevin, I am beginning to see that the other side of ROI for the corporations in the name of Occupational Health and Safety Programs is the Insurance Industries reluctance to pay what is due, this has certainly grown into an \”endemic\” stage worldwide as I am sure you are aware.

    Having worked in the Middle East for 15 years without even a mention of Workers Compensation is a most interesting study in itself. I am presently writing an article on my safety career in Qatar since 1994, so will send you snipets along the way, very interesting reading for a country that does not have and Occupational Health and Safety Act?

    Respectfully, Paul Koyich, CET, NEBOSH(IGC), HSE Advisor/Trainer, Al Khor Community(pop.6000+), State of Qatar (Canadian, in case you are wondering)

    1. Paul

      Some years ago I attended a world congress on social security that was held in Melbourne Australia. Of all the information I took from the congress was that workers\’ compensation is a luxury for most. Social security picks up the tab in some countries but mostly its a family support matter.

      Every so often, I need to remind myself of this reality so that the issue of worker safety and welfare is not only seen through Western eyes. Several of the books that I receive for review emphasise this reality.

      If you could share your article, it would be appreciated.

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