Workers compensation claims for catching covid on the job could hist $638m

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Thousands of Aussies are catching Covid on the job, with the most dangerous workplaces revealed, and claims could continue to skyrocket.

Aussies who are infected with Covid while working could send the compensation bill skyrocketing to $638 million just in the next 12 months as NSW prepares to open up.

The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) in NSW and employment lawyers have warned businesses and employers that they could face class actions or lawsuits from staff who catch the virus at work.

There have been 1593 Covid-19 claims for workers compensation since the pandemic started last year up until October 1, including 1198 since June 16 when the Delta outbreak started in NSW, the State Insurance Regulatory Authority revealed.

As at 31 July this year, total payments for Covid-19 related claims was $7.1 million, with an expected gross cost of $13.9 million for the year for insurers.

“New modelling has very recently been completed in line with the Doherty Institute’s work. Updated projections indicate that the cost impact of covid-19 infections for the 12 months after NSW opens up could be in the order of $638 million, based on 80 per cent vaccination coverage of the adult population,” a SIRA spokesperson told news.com.au.

“This estimate does not include costs associated with psychological injuries not associated with a Covid-19 diagnoses, or the additional claims management costs that will be incurred by insurers.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic up until 24 September this year, insurers have reported 1442 Covid-19 notifications and claims to SIRA.

Workplaces where staff are most likely to catch Covid

The SIRA data revealed some of the most dangerous places to work when it comes to the risk of being infected with Covid.

The industry that featured most heavily was supermarket and grocery stores with 282 notifications and claims, followed by the police service with 224 and takeaway food services with 101.

Surprisingly, hospitals only came in fourth on the list with 88 notifications and claims, with correctional and detention services registering 51 instances and department stores notching up 48.

Rounding out the top 10 were aged care residential services with 42 notifications and claims of Covid infections among staff and 31 in air and space transport.

While the NSW government introduced legislation last year that automatically presumes essential service workers contacted Covid-19 in the workplace making workers compensation claims easier for them, millions of Aussies returning to workplaces on Monday may find it harder.

Michael Tooma, managing partner of law firm Clyde & Co and an expert in workplace law, said he wasn’t surprised about the high number of claims already made given the extent of the outbreak in NSW.

He said workers compensation covers lost income, medical expenses and broader claims may be made later on.

“The workers compensation cases we are seeing today is not the end of the story, with more serious cases of Covid there may be additional claims made,” he said.

‘Time to watch”

Mr Tooma said the “time to watch” would be December 1 onwards when the NSW economy opens up considerably, to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, where he expects an increase in claims particularly in relation to public facing roles.

“I expect that restaurants, cafes and hospitality generally, along with retail where there’s a high degree of interaction with members of the community – that there would be a spike in Covid claims for workers compensation as outbreaks occur,” he warned.

“Unless a business takes proactive steps to manage the risks associated then it would be exposed not only to claims from workers but a premium impact from the claims.”

Unless businesses have a robust risk management plan in place, they could see rising costs for insurance, as well as legal cases from office-based employees who could use contact tracing and genomic tracing to prove they caught Covid at work, he added.

What employers need to do

Mr Tooma said employer’s have a duty of care to staff over and above anything contained in public health orders.

“In many respects people have been conditioned to think as Covid to be a public health order driven issue and where whatever is required is the onus of the public health orders, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

“It requires employers to manage the risk of Covid regardless of public health orders and that will come to bear when they eventually get removed from jurisdictions around Australia, but the Covid risk will remain.”

Employers should ensure that their business has done a risk assessment of Covid transmission before opening up, he added, including deciding whether the risk profile warrants staff being fully vaccinated or to use rapid antigen testing to enter the workplace.

Ventilation, cleaning regimes, social distancing, mask wearing and how to manage an outbreak are also factors employers would be obligation to investigate, he said.

“Workers have a right to refuse unsafe work, but workers should raise their safety concerns with employer at the first instance,” he added.



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