MENTAL stress and injury cost 72,000 police shifts in the past year amid a dramatic escalation of sick days.
The colossal loss of days is the equivalent of more than 350 full-time Victoria Police members off the job and on WorkCover for the year.
The force’s annual report showed there were 72,775 shifts lost in 2016/2017, compared with 38,662 two years earlier.
A total of 1130 claims were made in 2016/2017 at an average cost of $7434.
Mental health issues in law enforcement have come into focus again in recent years with an alarming number of suspected officer suicides.
Two Victoria Police members took their own lives in September and two Australian Federal Police died in suspected suicides at the organisation’s Melbourne city headquarters this year.
In the most recent AFP case, veteran investigator Malcolm Scott was found dead.
Victoria Police acting Deputy Commissioner Luke Cornelius said the surge in claims was, in part, due to the force’s increased awareness of mental health issues after a 2016 review by Dr Peter Cotton.
“The increased awareness of mental health issues is considered healthy and the increase in claims was foreseen,” he said.
Mr Cornelius said Victoria Police worked hard to prevent workplace injuries and illness, but members were put in dangerous situations daily.
“Physical injuries often occur in the context of arresting offenders. Of continuing concern is the number of assaults on police members,” he said. Mr Cornelius said the force always tried to cover for the lost shifts.
“Resources are prioritised to service demand and, as such, the community does not experience a reduction in policing response,” he said.
Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said superior systems were in place interstate and overseas to deal with police mental injury claims.
Mr Gatt said the union recognised mental health injury had caused a surge in lost time at work but it was committed to helping Victoria Police improve its response.
“That said, the provisional approval processes for police mental injury WorkCover claims, used in other states and countries, are much more effective at getting people help and consequently leading to better outcomes,” he said.
“Research clearly shows the sooner an employee receives treatment, the sooner and more likely their return to work will be.”
For 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/gethelp.
This piece was first seen on the ‘Herald Sun‘ November 13, 2017.