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Mental injuries, which can be caused by bullying, gendered violence, stress and other factors, have topped the list for Victorian university WorkCover claims, as tertiary institutions spent millions of dollars on injury claims last year.
According to WorkSafe, in 2022 the number of accepted injury claims by Victorian universities increased to 67, up from 56 the previous year. Those figures don’t include claims made at the University of Melbourne, as it is a self-insurer.
Victorian universities spent millions of dollars on WorkCover claims in 2022. Credit: Wayne Taylor
The University of Melbourne expected to pay $2.65 million in WorkCover claims in 2022, an increase from $1.69 million in 2021.
The average cost of claims at the state’s universities ranged from $6279 to $260,055.
The number of mental injury claims reached 26 across the state’s universities in 2022, more than double the 2018 figure of 12. Mental injury is diagnosed by a medical professional and can be the result of bullying, gendered violence, stress and fatigue.
After mental injury claims, there were 16 musculoskeletal injuries and 10 claims for traumatic tendon, muscle and ligament injuries.
In 2019, mental injury topped the list with 17 claims, with 15 musculoskeletal and nine fractures.
Universities record their WorkCover claims differently in annual reports, and some don’t disclose raw numbers.
There were 29 WorkCover claims at the University of Melbourne in 2022, and its overall claims payment included open claims dating back to 1985.
A spokesperson for the University of Melbourne said it was committed to providing a safe and healthy working and learning environment, and had a mature health and safety management system in place to eliminate or minimise risk of injury or illness.
La Trobe University had nine WorkCover claims in 2021 and 11 in 2022, but wouldn’t provide an indication of the cost of claims.
RMIT University’s WorkCover claims increased to 20 in 2022 from 15 in 2021, and the average cost of a claim rose from $82,395 to $120,017.
Based on the average cost of a claim and the number of claims, RMIT University likely spent about $2.4 million on WorkCover claims in 2022.
Monash University accepted 20 WorkCover claims in 2022, an increase from nine the previous year, but the average cost of a claim was $6279, a reduction from $13,750 in 2021.
Monash attributed the increase in the number of claims to campuses reopening after lockdown.
A spokesperson said Monash was “fiercely committed to safety” and that the spike in the number of claims was consistent with pre-COVID years.
“Through early intervention strategies and continuous improvement of the OHS management system, Monash has consistently recorded a lower lost time incident rate when compared to the overall Australian tertiary education sector,” the spokesperson said.
The average cost per claim for Victoria University was $260,055 in 2022. The number of “lost time” standard claims for 2022 was 0.32 per 100 full-time equivalent staff members in 2022, a reduction from the previous year. Victoria University has 1875 full-time equivalent staff.
There were 10 incidents at Deakin University requiring notification to WorkSafe Victoria, which resulted in three notices. The number of WorkCover claims increased in 2022 from the previous year but were below 20, with an average claim costing $86,150.
National Tertiary Education Union national president Alison Barnes said the union was “deeply concerned” that spiralling workloads were increasingly causing mental injuries to university staff.
“With so many university managements ruthlessly pushing staff to do more in less time, it’s incredibly disappointing but not overly surprising there’s been an increase in mental injury claims,” she said.
Barnes said universities had an obligation to ensure all staff were protected as much as possible from mental and physical injuries.
“This is exactly what we’re talking about when we stress the need for safe workloads to be a key plank of fair conditions for staff,” she said.
“Our sector bore the brunt of massive job losses during the pandemic. Under the current funding model, universities have to teach more students to maintain their existing funding. That ramps up pressure on staff even further.”
The WorkSafe compensation scheme will be overhauled from July, with changes for those who experience mental injury.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced last month that harassment, bullying and post-traumatic stress disorder would remain on the scheme, but weekly benefits for people experiencing stress or burnout wouldn’t. Instead, they would receive 13 weeks of support for treatment, including psychosocial supports to help them return to the workplace or training pathways.
A union survey of 20,842 Australian higher education workers in 2019 found nearly one in four women respondents said they’d experienced bullying in the sector, and 42.3 per cent of women respondents said their employer did not do enough to stop bullying. Thirty-six per cent of men respondents said their employer didn’t do enough to prevent bullying.
Between 45 and 50 per cent of respondents thought their employer did act on bullying.
Swinburne and Victoria universities said their priorities were to ensure the health and safety of their staff and students and comply with OHS requirements.
Monash University said it held 453 safety-related training sessions in 2022, as well as online safety training modules.
If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.
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