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ACC for workers suffering traumatic event exposure

13 December, 2007 Media Statement

ACC for workers suffering traumatic event exposure

Employees who develop a mental injury after being exposed to a sudden traumatic event during the course of their work will in future be entitled to ACC, says ACC Minister Maryan Street.

“The change is one of a number of amendments included in the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill (No.2), which continues the Labour-led government’s commitment to improving access to the ACC scheme.”

The Bill, which had its first reading today, also improves cover for work-related injuries, eligibility and entitlement to weekly compensation, and entitlement and processes for vocational rehabilitation and independence, said Maryan Street.

“The introduction of cover for clinically significant mental injury caused by a traumatic event which has occurred in the workplace means that, for example, a train driver who hits someone on the tracks or a bank worker who witnesses a colleague shot during a robbery will now get the same benefits under the scheme as others harmed by their work.”

The Bill also changes the provisions for work-related gradual process, disease, and infection claims to ensure people harmed by their work receive greater access to cover and more clarity around their ability to access it, the minister said.

“Importantly the Bill clarifies that the responsibility and cost for investigating such a claim rests with ACC.”

The Bill improves access to weekly compensation for seasonal and casual workers following concerns they were disadvantaged by the current rules for calculating entitlement. Nearly a quarter of today’s workforce is in non-standard work and the change reflects the increasingly varied labour market.

“The changes will see the compensation assessments made fairer and simpler; will allow earlier access to minimum weekly compensation for some and increase the rate of weekly compensation paid to potential earners,” said Maryan Street.

“Vocational rehabilitation provisions will also be made more flexible, enabling ACC the discretion to fund rehabilitation beyond the current three year time limit.”

The 65 year age limit on vocational rehabilitation will also be removed in recognition that this age group is increasingly opting to remain in, or return to, work, the minister said.

“A number of other policy issues and improvements are addressed in the Bill, which is one of many steps taken by the Labour-led government to ensure our world-leading ACC scheme continues to be fair and sustainable.”

The Bill will go before the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee for consideration and public submissions. It is anticipated the committee will report its recommendations back to the House in May, Maryan Street said.


Questions and Answers relating to the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Amendment Bill (No. 2)

Why has the Bill been put forward?
The Bill is the result of reviews undertaken by ACC and the Department of Labour in the areas of weekly compensation, vocational rehabilitation, and work-related gradual process, disease, and infection.
What does the Amendment Bill propose?

 Changes to the process for gaining cover for work-related gradual process, disease, and infection. The Bill simplifies the existing three-step test of causation set out in the current Act to provide greater certainty of cover for claimants with these conditions. In particular, the Bill clarifies that the responsibility and cost for investigating a claim rests with ACC. The Bill also provides for greater flexibility in terms of adding new work-related gradual processes, diseases, or infections to Schedule 2 of the Act. It is estimated that an additional 763 claims a year would be accepted as a result of the changes. Between 17,000 and 18,000 claims a year in this category have been accepted in recent years..

 Introduction of cover for mental injury caused by exposure to a sudden traumatic event in the course of employment. This means that, for example, a train driver who hits someone on the tracks, or a bank worker who witnesses a colleague shot and goes on to develop a mental injury will now receive ACC cover. The mental injury must be clinically significant, not just temporary distress. This Bill does not introduce cover for workplace stress.
 Improvements to eligibility and entitlement provisions for weekly compensation, by improving access to weekly compensation for people who are injured while temporarily between jobs, improved assessment for employees and a simplified abatement regime.

 Increased access to vocational rehabilitation, by removing the upper age limit, and providing ACC with discretion to extend the current three-year limit where longer periods of vocational rehabilitation may be required. The Bill also introduces a requirement for occupational assessors to consider a person’s pre-injury earnings when identifying suitable work types.
 The Bill also includes amendments in relation to other policy issues and also some technical changes, such as repealing disentitlements for wilfully self-inflicted injuries, and providing nurse practitioners with the ability to determine incapacity and undertake certain assessments for ACC purposes.
What will the practical implications be when it’s passed?

 Cover will be extended to people who suffer a mental injury as a result of a single traumatic event in the course of their employment.
 Improved access to cover for some claimants (particularly those with a work-related gradual process, disease, or infection).
 Proposed changes will result in one-off administrative costs for ACC and accredited employers as the new systems are put in place.
 The changes will result in increases in ACC levies in some areas.
 ACC’s ability to provide for claimants’ vocational rehabilitation where needed will be improved.

What other changes have been made recently in this area?

In 2001, the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act came into force. This reversed the National Party’s decision to privatise elements of the ACC scheme and re-introduced lump-sum payments for permanent impairment.
In 2005, the Act was amended to:
 Replace the medical misadventure provisions with the current treatment injury provisions, providing wider and fairer access to cover for claimants with treatment injuries;
 Enhance certainty to weekly compensation for people who are newly self-employed; and
 Increase the discretion available to ACC to provide additional social rehabilitation entitlements.
 The most recent amendment to the Act was to merge the Self-Employed Work Account and the Employers’ Account to form a single Work Account. This change came into force earlier this year.

What is the timeline for the Bill?

The Bill will be referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee, which is expected to report back next May. It is anticipated the Bill will be passed by the end of June 2008.

How do the changes to the provisions around work-related injury affect volunteers?

Many organisations (including the fire and ambulance services) draw considerably on trained volunteers who work alongside their paid workforce. While these volunteers are not covered by the provisions being introduced in the Bill, I have instructed officials to carry out further work on cover for volunteers in the workplace.

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