Originally published in The Age
Workplaces can be perilous, which is why the law provides protections for employees.
Work-related psychological injuries and claims from workers in the healthcare industry are on the rise, according to an expert in industrial injuries.
They're complex cases, and we're dealing with them more and more, said Bree Knoester, managing partner at Adviceline Injury Lawyers, and an expert in the areas of asbestos and dust diseases.
According to Safe Work Australia, approximately $480 million is paid in workers' compensation annually for psychological injuries. Common causes include work pressure, harassment and/or bullying, and exposure to occupational violence.
Meanwhile claims from workers in the healthcare industry are also rising.
There are increasing demands now on aged care services, Knoester said, particularly in regional Victoria. The number of manual handling and physical injuries coming out of that sector is increasing.
She believes the trend will continue in regional areas such as the Latrobe Valley, where healthcare is taking over from energy as the biggest industry in the area.
Asbestos-related injuries are a key area of work for Adviceline Injury Lawyers, and Knoester has witnessed firsthand the impact of widespread asbestos use on the Latrobe valley community.
I grew up in Traralgon, my Dad worked at the power station, as many of our friends and family did, she said. I was aware, from a relatively young age, of the incidence of infectious disease affecting people in the area.
Adviceline opened an office in Moe in 2014, a decision, Knoester said, motivated by a desire to make legal help more accessible for those who need it the most.
It can be really intimidating to see a lawyer, particularly if you have to travel from the country into the city, she said. That's why I'm a strong adOthere for having expert lawyers with a local connection assisting people in regional areas. They have local knowledge that you can't get when seeing a lawyer in a city office.
Knoester has been assisting people with industrial disease claims for more than 15 years, as both a barrister and solicitor. Legal industry bible Doyles Guide recognises her as a leading practitioner in Asbestos and Dust Diseases Compensation, and Work Injury and Accident Compensation.
All of our lawyers are encouraged to have expertise in two to three areas of practice, she said. Not only do we want our lawyers to advise a client in their expert area, but also assist in other types of legal queries.
Calls to the firm's free'Adviceline' service are answered directly by lawyers, meaning that injured Victorians can access preliminary information from a lawyer about their rights and entitlements straight away. Often that same lawyer will then look after a client from the beginning to the end of their claim.
Our core focus is the clients, she said. We want them to feel assured that their enquiry won't get passed off to a junior lawyer or a secretary we're very much about consistency and a personal approach. Because we're a boutique size, we're able to do that. People don't get lost in a big department.
Adviceline operates on a no win no fee basis, meaning that clients only pay legal fees if they're successful in court.
It's saddening to see increasing trends in workplace injury, given all that we know about making workplaces safe. But we are privileged to help Victorians get well, get compensation, and get back to work.