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New legislation makes it quicker and easier for first responders suffering from PTSD to receive treatment and compensation

Until recently, when first responders (from paramedics, police and firefighters through to child protection agency officers) made a compensation claim in relation to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they were required to prove their injury was a direct result of their occupation before they could receive any compensation. However, on 20 May, that changed and the Queensland Parliament amended the Workers Compensation & Rehabilitation Act 2003 (the Act) so that, from that day forward, first responders suffering from PTSD have a quicker and easier pathway to access treatment and compensation under the workers compensation scheme.

We think that is some pretty good news.

What was the basis for the amendment?

First responders play an integral part in protecting and serving the community and the legislation was reviewed to make it quicker and easier for them (and other eligible employees) to make a workers compensation claim for PTSD. This change was supported by the increasing awareness that exposure to acute and cumulative trauma exposure impacts mental health and wellbeing.

What are the changes?

The Act has been amended to include presumptive workers compensation laws for first responders and "eligible employees" diagnosed with PTSD. This means that first responders, like police, paramedics and firefighters will no longer have to prove their PTSD injury was work-related. Instead, it will be presumed that the nature of their duties was the cause of their injury. As such, a person diagnosed by a Psychiatrist as having PTSD, who was at any time before the diagnosis employed as a first responder or an eligible employee, will now be entitled to immediate support, treatment and compensation under the Act.

Who qualifies as a first responder?

A first responder is a person who, as part of their employment, is required to respond to incidents that are life threatening or otherwise traumatic and in which time may be critical to prevent actual or potential death or injury to persons, or to prevent or minimise damage to property or the environment.

A first responder is generally employed in one of the following fields:

  • ambulance officer or paramedic
  • authorised officer under the Child Protection Act 1999
  • Corrective services offer
  • Fire service officer, member of the State Emergency Service or an emergency service unit under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990, a member of the rural fire brigade, volunteer firefighter or fire warden
  • a person who performs an occupation in the private sector that corresponds to the occupation of an ambulance officer, paramedic, corrective services officer of fire service officer
  • a police officer or police recruit or a youth justice staff member
  • a doctor or nurse employed in – emergency or trauma care, acute care, critical care, high dependency care
  • a coal mine worker who is appropriately qualified to perform a rescue function at a coal mine, a worker within the meaning of the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999
  • an occupation performed by a local government employee that corresponds to the occupation of ambulance officer or paramedic, child protection officer, corrective services offer of fire service officer

Who is an eligible employee?

An eligible employee is a person who:

  1. is a worker or volunteer with a government department where one of the of the following Acts is administered: Ambulance Service Act 1991, Child Protection Act 1999, Corrective Services Act 2006,Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990, Police Service Administration Act 1990 or Youth Justice Act 1992; and
  2. their employment requires the person to experience repeated or extreme exposure to the graphic details of traumatic incidents (including an incident that exposes a person to threat of death, serious injury or sexual violence).

Can a person make an application for compensation without a diagnosis of PTSD?

Yes, a first responder (or eligible employee) can make an application for compensation without a diagnosis of PTSD. The workers compensation insurer will be required to arrange an examination by a Psychiatrist and pay for any travel costs incurred by the Claimant in attending the appointment.

Can the presumption be rebutted or overturned?

Yes, the presumption can be rebutted or overturned if it can be proven that the significant contributing factor for the worker's PTSD did not arise out of, or in the course of, the person’s employment as a first responder or an eligible employee.

Is the presumption limited to diagnosis of PTSD?

Yes, the normal process applies to claims for compensation for mental injury which is not diagnosed as PTSD.

Last words

This is a significant development in workers compensation law, which also impacts people working in many of the most vital roles in society. It goes without saying that this is a very positive change and we are pleased to see compensation and assistance expedited for these noble individuals. If you would like more information on this topic or to understand whether this applies to your workforce (or yourself or someone you know), please contact Cameron Seymour.

Article written by Cameron Seymour (Partner) and Natalie Carmichael (Associate).

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."