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Safer, healthier workplaces benefit everyone: A conversation with Tony Wessling, acting Group Executive of Workers Compensation at icare.

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As an organisation, icare provides employers with tools to support injured workers, getting them back to work sooner, as well as products that focus on injury prevention and keeping people safe at work. “At icare”, says Tony, “we believe safer, healthier workplaces benefit everyone”. 

Tony explains to us that “icare’s remit is broad and includes supporting more than 90,000 sick and injured workers in the 2023 financial year, through their workers compensation scheme. We’ve also cared for the long-term needs of more than 2,000 people who have been seriously injured at work or on our roads”, Tony elaborates. “And our new CTP Care (which focuses on treatment and care for anyone with a long-term injury caused by a motor accident in NSW) scheme helped more than 500 people with a long-term injury from a road accident”. 

Under the Dust Diseases scheme, more than 5,000 workers and their families who have been affected by workplace dust diseases, have received support. And icare’s Home Building Compensation Fund has supported almost 900 homeowners who were left with incomplete or defective homes in the 2023 financial year. 

While their remit is broad, in recent times icare have been expanding their work in an increasingly challenging segment of injury prevention, namely psychological support. 

We ask Tony to share with our readers how icare supports employees and employers for the entire lifecycle of an injury, and specifically how the management of a psychological injury differs from a physical injury. “Living with a mental health condition can make it difficult to live life as you typically would”, he explains. “When the mental health condition you are struggling with has been caused by events in your workplace, lodging a workers compensation claim is the beginning of your path back to wellness and to work”. 

Tony acknowledges that recovery from injury can be a difficult time for people with significant injuries, and many people require additional psychological support. “In February 2023, icare formed the Test & Learn team to help address the rise in psychological injury claims”. It’s this new team that is seeking to improve outcomes for workers with psychological injuries through piloting new initiatives and sharing findings with Claims Service Providers. 

“The team is working on multiple initiatives including changing early claim practices to give workers greater control in telling their story at the start of the claim and facilitating earlier access to psychological treatment, with injured workers receiving treatment three weeks sooner, on average”, describes Tony. 

“And”, he says, “the Test & Learn team is also developing tailored injury management planning that supports recovery as well as return to work, and improved communication with small employers, connecting them to available support resources.” 

The conversation moves to discussing the shifts in the insurance industry towards mental health harms, and how that is impacting icare. “At icare, we are redesigning our claims model to enable more tailored approaches to managing psychological injury claims”, explains Tony. 

“For people at risk, icare has a substantial report and referral support system to respond quickly to threats and incidences of self-harm”. For icare, immediate support is key to this response. “Claim managers are able to provide immediate support to people who suggest self-harm, and if needed can coordinate with NSW police and ambulance to provide emergency services, organise welfare checks and ensure relevant treatment providers are available to facilitate ongoing support”. 

And what about the emerging challenges for mental health in the insurance sector? “The nature of work is fundamentally changing”, says Tony, “which is also creating challenges”. He notes that alongside labour market changes and evolving workforces, the insurance industry is working to understand other factors. And the sector is also working to understand how the impact of “increased financial stress and work demands, increases the vulnerability of people to a psychological injury claim”. 

“We know that workers in education and the healthcare sector are characterised by more specialised, mentally demanding, time sensitive and intensified roles. icare is investing in research and innovation like the Design for Care program to help the health and community services industry design better workplaces to address psychosocial risks and prevent psychological injury claims”. This led the conversation to discussing the barriers to psychological risk claims, and potential solutions. “At least half of the psychological injury claims we received are caused by work pressure, harassment and bullying”, he says emphatically. He notes that employers often don’t understand psychological injury, and that there is still a stigma associated with it. “Plus, the availability of and access to psychologists often delays treatment and recovery”. 

“Also”, Tony explains, “workers are concerned about negative repercussions like being terminated or treated differently. And we know that if a worker who is experiencing a mental health issue does not seek help quickly, it can lead to poorer health outcomes plus it reduces the ability of an employer to identify and respond to risks”. 

And what does Tony want employers to know about the barriers to psychological risk claims and their impact on employees? “That their role is crucial in supporting an injured workers’ recovery and return to work after psychological injury”. “And” he points out, “employers also play an important role in promoting a mentally healthy workplace, through implementation of Work Health and Safety (WHS) practices and providing workers with support resources”. 

Speaking on icare’s work on creating the Mental Health Claims Hub, Tony tells us that “we have spent time listening to employers and conducting interviews with workers, to understand their experience of a mental health claim”. The result of this user experience work is the Hub, “because people wanted a central place to source information”.  The Hub helps workers and employers access the information and help they need to understand and support them before, during, and after they have lodged a mental health claim. 

As the conversations draws to an end, we ask Tony how icare supports their own employees who are working on mental health services and projects. “icare invests heavily in providing our people with the understanding, skills, and capability to support identification and management of psychosocial risk”. Support services include, he explains “a strong network of Mental Health first aiders and established work health and safety frameworks that support leaders to actively foster inclusive, collaborative and productive teams”. 

If you want to explore psychological safety content and resources from the 23rd World Congress on Safety and Health, head over to the Congress platform to explore Programme on Demand, Resource Library, Digital Posters and more. And if you don’t have access yet, you can get your On-Demand Pass now for only $400AUD! 

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