Occupational suicide

Wednesday 6 September 2017
Catherine Sim

Suicide due to workplace bullying or workplace trauma has been on the increase over the last decade.  As awareness of mental health issues has grown, so too the law has grown and shifted to reflect community expectations about safety in the workplace.

Although psychiatric injury claims are common under WorkCover, workers who commit suicide due to their psychiatric injuries, or as a result of bullying, fall into a separate category.

Work-related suicide occurs across a multitude of industries. Research has shown that construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than a workplace accident.

The Victoria Police Mental Health Review in 2016 revealed that there is an increased risk of suicide for members of Victoria Police than the general public.  From 2000, there have been 23 completed suicides – differentiated from attempted suicides – of active Victoria Police members. Another report found that people working in protective or emergency services had higher rates of suicide than the general employed population.

Bullying and exposure to trauma are not the only causes of workplace suicide.  A cultural phenomenon known as ‘karoshi’ in Japan is a death resulting from overwork and stress.  In 2015, a 24 year old worker at a Japanese advertising agency committed suicide after being forced to work extremely long hours.

Unfortunately, the issue of suicide due to overwork is not one that is unique to Japan.  Junior doctors have also emerged recently as a cause for concern, with a 2013 survey showing one in ten doctors reporting thoughts of suicide in the preceding four weeks.

In 2011, Brodie’s Law was introduced after the suicide of a young girl subjected to ongoing bullying by co-workers at her café job in Melbourne.  The law introduced an extension of the stalking provisions and made serious bullying a crime. 

If a worker commits suicide or dies as a result of their workplace injuries, their dependants may have entitlements under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013. These entitlements include, but are not limited to:

  • burial or cremation expenses
  • counselling for family members
  • lump sum payments to dependants, up to a total of $598,360 to be shared amongst all dependants (as at 01/07/2017)
  • pensions to dependant partners or children.

Dependants may also have the right to sue for lump sum compensation.

Lifeline offers specialist services dealing with crisis support and suicide prevention. Twenty-four hour telephone counselling or face-to-face counselling at a number of locations is available.  Find out more at www.lifeline.org.au.

For more information and to discuss your legal rights, contact Adviceline Injury Lawyers on (03) 9321 9988 to speak directly to a personal injury law expert.

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