A new initiative by WorkSafe Victoria is slashing mental health related workers compensation claims in its own workforce, by upskilling employees and their leaders in the realm of wellbeing. Bucking the trend of safety-focussed interventions, the WorkSafe Victoria Wellbeing Program is one of the first in the country to look at workers’ compensation through a wellbeing lens.
Kristine Gatt, who heads the project, says strategies that build wellbeing knowledge and practice are important, given the current rates of mental health injury, nationwide. Today, mental injuries account for 66 percent of total incurred claims costs across Victoria.
“Historically, measures that have sought to prevent workers’ compensation claims have examined what has gone wrong in the past. Our Wellbeing focus is about equipping people to thrive in the future,” she said, ahead of the National Workers Compensation Summit, hosted by Informa Connect.
“We felt, given past statistics, it was important to focus on work factors and leadership knowledge about health in the workplace. By incorporating mindfulness and upskilling our people through a structured program of reform we have reduced the number of mental injury claims and assisted more employees to remain job-connected,” she added.
Positive results so far
The program has already led to positive cultural change among WorkSafe’s employees, with people reportedly more engaged with ‘Health, Safety and Wellbeing’ initiatives; and reaching out for support sooner.
“We run regular lunchtime sessions addressing topics relating to all aspects of wellbeing – including mindfulness – and were absolutely overwhelmed with how many people attended the first program,” Ms. Gatt said.
“Whenever we ran anything like that previously, 25 people or so may have turned up. Now we consistently draw crowds of 50, and in multiple sessions we have had well over 100 attendees – many of whom did not fit the stereotype of someone interested in mindfulness.
“There is definitely an appetite for it, and we had great feedback from the sessions. Our wellbeing program is becoming an important component of the Employee Value Proposition at WorkSafe.”
Meanwhile, leaders have reported feeling “better equipped” to deal with potential mental health challenges in the workplace.
“Our leaders can identify factors that might lead to a workers’ compensation claim earlier. They can more easily identify when an employee is under stress; and intervene early. They also know how to support their employees more effectively,” Ms. Gatt added.
Figures back it up
The cultural changes among WorkSafe employees are already paying off, with a marked decrease in claim frequency.
The number of standard claims registered per million dollars in paid remuneration reduced from 0.12 in the 2019/20 financial year to 0.04 in 2021/22. Incurred costs are also down by 56 percent. In the same period, early intervention support has seen just 6 percent of reported injuries progress to a workers compensation claim, down from 11 percent the preceding year.
This is despite a period of surging mental health injury claims throughout the country, as employees continue grappling with the fallout of COVID-19.
“Given the ambiguity of the last two years, we are hearing from other industries that they are overwhelmed by the number of claims that are receiving. Meanwhile, our project has seen claims frequency and duration head in the opposite direction. It is a result we are very proud of,” said Ms. Gatt.
Focus on trauma prevention
A dedicated trauma prevention framework was included in the strategy, given the growing rates of post traumatic distress disorder (PTSD) in the general population. This was particularly important for field operatives who are often confronted with emotional circumstances in the course of their job.
Under the framework, a dedicated psychologist spends one-on-one time talking to employees who work in high risk areas, to understand their work environment and get to know their triggers.
Leaders are then briefed on how to detect early warning signs of diminishing wellbeing, specific to that individual; how to avoid situations that could activate their triggers; and how to provide tailored supports if needed.
The same psychologist checks in with team members at scheduled intervals, and coaches them on strategies to optimise their mental health..
“With field roles exposing staff to challenging situations, it isn’t enough to just hope for the best in terms of people’s mental health,” said Ms. Gatt.
“Our specialist-informed program of work has been really effective in minimising the impact of exposure to trauma – both as a preventative risk control measure, and a means of responding to critical incidents. “It shows that positive results are achieved by providing high levels of support, clear communication and understanding our employees’ needs.”
Wellbeing metrics are key
Developing metrics that can accurately measure wellbeing has been another key ingredient to success. WorkSafe’s Wellbeing Manager, Lisa Aitken, played a pivotal role in developing these and says balancing quantitative with qualitative measures of wellbeing is crucial.
“Understanding how people are feeling about the organisation via employee opinion surveys is really important. We can use that information and take a more targeted intervention approach. There might be certain teams that have specific needs, for example, and these metrics can flag that,” she said.
Presenting at the National Workers’ Compensation Summit, Kristine Gatt and Lisa Aitken will share further insights into WorkSafe’s Wellbeing Program. Learn more and register your place here.