Research — 20 October 2016

EXPOSURE to violence, workplace bullying and rising workloads have caused a spike in the cost of mental stress claims from Department of Education and Child Development workers.teacher-helping-her-student_1098-997

Teachers, principals and social workers lodged claims at a rate of three to four a week last financial year, with the costs climbing more than 11 per cent to $17.1 million.

The increased expense came despite a record low number of claims from education workers, while claim numbers from Families SA staff stayed the same as the previous year.

Australian Education Union state president Howard Spreadbury said the ballooning average cost of claims by education staff, from $68,534 to $95,351 in 2015/16, showed they were becoming “more complex and protracted”.

“These sorts of reports should raise a flag to the employer to say … we need to do something about it,” he said.

“If we are talking claims of a psychological nature based on workload, then there are things the employer can do to alleviate that.”

Opposition education spokesman John Gardner said the money spent on stress claims was “$17 million that’s not being spent in schools to improve educational outcomes”.

“We need ongoing dialogue between the department, the union and school leaders to reduce these pressures,” he said.

More than 400 mental stress claims were lodged over the past two financial years, with work pressure, work-related harassment or bullying, and exposure to workplace violence cited as the most common reasons.

Claims from education staff dropped from 171 to 136 in 2015/16, which the department’s executive director for people and culture Sam Bradley said was “the lowest it has ever been”.

“We have strategies in place to make that an ongoing trend and we believe we will see a further reduction in the number and cost of claims in future,” Ms Bradley said, adding the overall number of claimants represented “a tiny proportion” of the department’s 30,000 staff.

“Importantly, the department ranks very highly in supporting staff to return to work following injury, with the average return to work rate at approximately 93 per cent, which is substantially higher than the workforce average of 76 per cent.”

About 50 claims were made by Families SA workers in each financial year, with their average cost up from $71,794 to $80,762 in 2015/16.

Free confidential counselling is available for stressed staff, while prevention strategies include

training, risk assessment and “wellness” programs.

This piece was first seen on ‘The Advertiser’ on October 16, 2016.

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