Standing Committee on Law and Justice

About this Item
SubjectsOccupational Health and Safety; Workers Compensation; Parliamentary Committees: New South Wales: Law and Justice
SpeakersRobertson The Hon Christine; Pearce The Hon Greg
BusinessCommittee, Report, Motion

Page: 1466

    Report: Workers Compensation Injury Management Pilots Project

    Debate resumed from 30 August 2006.

    The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON [2.47 p.m.]: The evaluation of the four workers compensation injury management pilots project involved the return-to-work rates of pilot participants compared with New South Wales scheme results by Campbell's Monitor, self-analysis by three of the pilot providers, EMI, QBE and Central West Injury Management Services, and a results workshop attended by pilot managers and pilot evaluators. They were just some of the elements involved in the evaluation process.

    WorkCover then prepared an evaluation report, synthesising the results of the analyses prepared by the various consultants. As the evaluation demonstrates, the critical components of injury management include higher levels of customer service, focus on the needs of both the injured worker and the employer to produce better outcomes, a consistent and easily contactable case manager, the promotion from the outset of clear communication, the adoption of case conferencing and/or review to reduce claim duration and streamline case management, adequate staffing levels, including well-trained case managers, an attention to speed and efficiency in processing all claims to allow staff to concentrate on injury and issues management, an attention to proactive education of workers and employers about the injury management process, and the need for active provision of information and training about injury prevention.

    The key finding of the evaluation report—and, I should add, a most encouraging one—is that it is possible to achieve major improvements in injury management and return to work. The evaluation highlighted the critical importance of a case manager approach to injury management. Put simply, this means that one person is appointed to be responsible for the active management of an injured person's return to work. The Standing Committee on Law and Justice is pleased to note WorkCover's advice that all insurers have adopted a new case management model. The first recommendation in the committee's report urges WorkCover to continue applying and developing the case management model. The review found that WorkCover actively shared information while the pilots were being undertaken and that insurance companies and employers involved in the process took the issues on board in a positive manner.

    Another major component of successful injury management identified by the pilots project is the speedy and efficient notification of injuries and claims processing so that injured workers do not have prolonged waiting periods for compensation payments. According to WorkCover, the introduction of provisional liability—which requires insurers in the majority of cases to commence weekly compensation payments within seven days of notification of injury—has resulted in an increased number of workers receiving their weekly benefits within seven days of notification of injury and, as a consequence, a reduction in the overall level of disputes.

    A further major component of effective injury management identified by the pilots is the need for clear information about the system. WorkCover told us that the Claims Assistance Service is meeting this objective by providing information and assistance about entitlements to workers, employers and others. This helps workers and employers to resolve complex issues and potential disputes without recourse to lawyers.

    The last major component of the injury management process identified by the pilots project is that of injury prevention. WorkCover has now begun to roll out seminars on injury prevention in workplaces across the State, particularly in rural and regional areas. WorkCover has also developed fact sheets that provide information to employers about what they need to do to improve their injury management and health and safety practices.

    WorkCover has not yet established cross-industry benchmarks for an integrated injury management and claims management approach. The reason given for this is that the available data gathered during the 12-month period allocated for the pilots was insufficient for this purpose. The committee remains convinced that the establishment of benchmarks would be beneficial both to the injury management process and to the scheme as a whole, and recommends using any alternative means possible.

    The committee concludes that the injury management pilots project has clearly succeeded in identifying the critical components of the injury management process and that WorkCover has already begun to address the majority of the key findings of the evaluation report. We are particularly pleased that, as a result of the pilots project, a number of wide-ranging reforms to the Workers Compensation Scheme have been made to ensure that injured workers are provided with the treatment and support they need to return to work, including the introduction of the case management model, provisional liability, the claims assistance service, and a greater emphasis on providing information and training for injury prevention.

    I thank my colleagues on the committee. I point out that this was the last inquiry on which the Hon. Greg Pearce acted as deputy chair, and I thank him for his work. During the inquiry there were many stressful times for committee members, an indication yet again that the committee functions well in dealing with such important issues. I am also grateful to committee members for their bipartisan approach to the inquiry, and the committee's findings and recommendations. I also thank the committee secretariat for its assistance in administering the inquiry and drafting the report. The secretariat has always been very supportive of the committee.

    The committee valued the input of various stakeholders, including CGU Workers Compensation New South Wales, Injuries Australia, QBE Workers Compensation, Campbell Research and Consulting, and WorkCover, particularly its representatives Mr Rob Thompson, the Acting General Manager of the Insurance Division, and Ms Mary Hawkins, the Director of the Injury Management Branch. The committee is aware of the considerable time and resources involved in preparing submissions and giving evidence. I commend the report to the House.

    The Hon. GREG PEARCE [2.55 p.m.]: I will speak briefly to the report. As the chair of the committee said, I was deputy chair of the committee during the inquiry. In one sense the inquiry looked at fairly narrow issues, but I believe it made a valuable and useful contribution to the administration of the WorkCover scheme in New South Wales. The pilot projects involved took place some years ago, and of course things have moved on in many respects. I believe that in the context of trying to improve injury management the pilot projects were useful, and that is the basic thrust of the committee's report. The committee referred to some continuing concerns that have already been referred to in a number of reports on the WorkCover scheme.

    One issue that has been of concern to me for some time is data integrity and the production of data by WorkCover and the insurers. Chapter 3, paragraph 3.55 of the report refers to that issue. That part of the report also refers to outstanding issues in relation to disputes, the possibility of extending the case management model to self-insurers, the tail project, and the assessment of permanent impairment. The assessment of permanent impairment has continued to be of considerable concern arising from the various reforms to tort law introduced by the Carr Government and now the Iemma Government.

    In May this year the Minister finally issued a ministerial statement regarding reforms to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the review he intends to undertake of that Act, which is well and truly overdue. In relation to WorkCover, we still have the ludicrous situation of there being different thresholds for people who have accidents to establish non-economic loss—10 per cent for motor accidents compensation and 15 per cent for workers compensation. The Government needs to address those issues. Although the issues are not directly part of the report, the committee referred in chapter 3 to the need for an objective assessment of permanent impairment.

    Other significant areas of concern regarding the tort reform process are not covered by the committee's recommendations. However, it is important to remind honourable members that there is still an issue about whether commutations would be a better way to proceed than the sort of model we are looking at here. Certainly the pilot projects were useful in their approach to injury management, but the whole issue of commutations still needs to be reviewed. In relation to legal costs, I do not advocate that the system should be reversed, to return it to the way it operated earlier. However, there are still some anomalies, particularly in relation to the maximum amount of costs to be recovered by a plaintiff in various levels of claims.

    I would like to thank the chair and other members of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for their hard work during the inquiry. That we were able to get through the quite technical issues involved in the review of these pilot projects and come up with a good report is in large part attributable to the efforts of committee members, and the secretariat and its staff. I note that some of the secretariat feel that at the moment they are not receiving the level of support they deserve from the Government, a feeling shared by most other staff of this Parliament. However, in doing its work the committee had a great deal of support from the secretariat staff, and I thank them for that. I commend the report to the House.

    Motion agreed to.