New laws to provide stronger PTSD support for emergency services first responders introduced by SA-BEST

24 January 2020

Emergency services “first responders” suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be better protected under South Australian-first new laws proposed by SA-BEST.

SA-BEST MLC and Treasury and Budget spokesperson, Frank Pangallo, has introduced a Private Member’s Bill designed to reduce the stigma associated with PTSD – a disorder suffered by many of the state’s first responders as they face extreme conditions on the front line protecting the community.

In a South Australian first, the Bill presumes a worker’s PTSD diagnosis is work-related - a ground breaking advancement in workers compensation legislation in SA – and the onus of proof shifts to the employer to prove otherwise.

The Bill focusses on first responders including: 

  • paramedics;
  • police officers;
  • firefighters;
  • nurses;
  • doctors, and;
  • SES and CFS volunteers

“This first-of-its-kind legislation in South Australia is much needed, and long overdue,” Frank said.

“Many of our first responder emergency services personnel put their lives on the line on a regular basis – due to the very nature of their profession, they deal with matters and see scenes that the majority of us would find unimaginable,” he said.

“We witnessed that only recently with the devastating Kangaroo Island and Adelaide Hills bushfires and the heroic, life-saving and outstanding work these emergency services workers do,” he said.

“They are the people who keep our families safe at night, the ones we call in emergency situations, and they respond without consideration for their own well-being.

“As a result, it’s imperative there are stronger safeguards and protections to ensure they receive all the support they require should their health decline due to their working environment.

“PTSD is an insidious mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event or cumulative exposure traumatic incidents, and is symptomatically manifested through flashbacks, insomnia, hypervigilance and sometimes suicide.

“Under our Bill, where an emergency services first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, it will be assumed in the first instance the PTSD injury is work-related - unless there is compelling evidence from the employer that the cause of the injury is not related to work.

“Further, there are provisions within the Bill to ensure that any claims initiated before the commencement of the amendments will be included - unless that claim has been finalised and all rights of review and appeal in relation to determination have been exhausted.”

Frank’s Private Member’s Bill, Return to Work (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Amendment Bill 2019, follows similar legislation passed last year by the Tasmanian Liberal Government in Tasmania – the first government in Australia to take affirmative action to better support public sector workers who suffer with the debilitating effects from PTSD.

SA-BEST has consulted widely with industry experts and related employee association – including Professor Alexander “Sandy” McFarlane AO, of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide; the Police Association of SA; the Ambulance Employees Association; the South Australian Branch of the Nurses and Midwifery Federation; the CFS Volunteers Association; the SA SES Volunteers Association; and the United Fire Fighters Union of South Australia – in the development of the Bill.

Frank said statistics provided by SAPOL revealed that 26 per cent of workers compensation claims in 2017/18 were due to “psychological injuries”.

“Research indicates our first responders are twice as likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts than civilians,” Frank said.

“We expect them to keep us safe - but we also have a responsibility to ensure their own safety and wellbeing is maintained,” he said.

“We must break down barriers that prevent first responders from getting the assistance they need to deal with the stress and trauma they face day-in, day-out - and to make the claims process easier in the event of a diagnosis of PTSD.

 “The prejudice implicit in our worker’s compensation system tends to harbour and encourage stigma and prejudice around our first responders and those who struggle - often after ignoring their health concerns coupled with a work culture of toughing it out.

 “These crucial issues are central to the Bill SA-BEST has introduced and we are hopeful of support from all sides of politics.”

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