Traumatised emergency workers get government backing for compo plan

If the state, territory and federal ministers agreed on nationally consistent laws creating a presumption in favour of emergency service workers pursuing psychological injury claims, he said, Australia would be “the only country outside North America” to pass the reform.

“Emergency service workers during their working careers unfortunately, due to their very nature, witness horrific tragedies involving the loss of life and [serious injury],” Mr Marshall said.

“They have to respond to multiple deaths and, eventually, the accumulated effect of exposure has resulted in an ever-increasing number of emergency service workers affected by post-traumatic stress illness.”

Peter Marshall, United Firefighters Union secretary, says fireys should not have to relive their trauma to get treatment. Credit:Angela Wylie

Firefighters and other emergency service workers should not be forced to prove they were exposed to trauma before receiving compensation, he said, because the “adversarial system” forced them to relive the event, increasing their trauma, before they had been able to access treatment.

The Victorian government has trialled a program where emergency service workers can access compensation straight away, with the proof element of their claims delayed until they have been through treatment.

“We’d like to see legislation to treat PTSI as a presumptive illness extended to all states and territories for all emergency service workers,” Mr Marshall said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month announced $76 million in funding for mental health support services for firefighters, emergency personnel and others affected by the 2019-20 bushfires.

The government tabled its response to the Senate committee report on Wednesday, stating it supported in principle the recommendation to “establish a national stakeholder working group … to assess the benefits of a coordinated, national approach to presumptive legislation covering PTSD
and other psychological injuries in first responder and emergency services agencies”.

Mr Porter said the issue “will be on the agenda of the next meeting of work health and safety ministers, expected to be held mid-year” and he expected a national working group would be agreed to.

The federal government is also considering a reversal of the standard of proof for first
responders with a psychological injury under the Comcare scheme – including the Australian Federal Police, which has introduced fast-tracking of PTSD claims for some officers.

Mr Marshall said the historical failure of the fire service to acknowledge this had contributed to self-medication and suicide by professional firefighters afraid to speak out due to “a fear of being seen as weak or not able to cope with the job”.

He said the Senate inquiry had encouraged emergency service workers to share their stories of trauma, resilience and recovery, encouraging others to speak out “rather than to hide and pretend it’s all OK”.

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