Almost 12 months ago, Paul Wayne Clarke “loaded a shopping trolley with jerry cans of fuel and set it alight inside a Darwin insurance office, injuring 15 people”. Clarke died on 21 January 2011 after a failed suicide attempt whilst in custody.
On February 2010 media report provided a few details of Clarke’s circumstances:
“The bomber reportedly goes by the name “Bird” and is a former security guard who worked at a Darwin pub until being injured on the job in October 2007.
He allegedly blamed the insurer for loss of earnings that forced him to leave his three-bedroom home in Humpty Doo and move into a shipping container.”
The incident was enormously traumatic for the 15 staff and customers of the Territory Insurance Office (TIO) who were injured by the incident.
The Coroner will be investigating Clarke’s death but the motivation for Clarke’s initial actions against TIO will remain a mystery. This is a disappointment as an analysis of Clarke’s motivations may have revealed important information about the handling of worker’s compensation claims.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere about some of the pressures that can push workers’ compensation claimants to suicide. Clarke externalised his anger onto workers’ compensation insurer TIO in February 2010 and suicide has occurred again although the motivation for his act is currently unknown.
A traditional OHS approach to Clarke’s attack would be to analyse the design of the TIO work area to reduce the likelihood of a violent person entering the building or getting close to staff or customers. But a broader investigation should look at the precursors to Clarke’s actions so that the likelihood of claimants being angered by workers’ compensation processes is minimised. This type of investigation in this instance is unlikely as a suicide-in-custody will be the focus of the Coroner and Clarke’s actions against TIO overshadow his workers’ compensation grievance.
To prevent violence in these premises in the future, it is necessary to look into the initiators of this violence. It may be that the workers’ compensation system treats claimants harshly. It may be that the system hives inadequate consideration to the social and familial situation of claimants. It may be that the system cannot accommodate claimants with a mental illness (particularly worrying as stress and mental health become an increasing element in workers’ compensation claims).
Within the next few years, Australia will be looking at harmonising its workers’ compensation systems but, as is occurring with the OHS harmonisation process, legal processes will be the focus. The administration of the system and the management of fragile people will not. Without this analysis, workers’ compensation will be tweaked and reworded instead of being reformed.