Several legal bodies have expressed concern about significant proposed changes to SA’s workers’ compensation scheme and the consultation process prior to proposing changes to the Impairment Assessment Guidelines (IAGs) in particular. The proposed changes will deny a higher number of workers access to compensation and were presented to stakeholders, including The Law Society of South Australia, without enough time for them to examine the changes effectively.
Law Society president Rebecca Sandford said that the consultation process regarding the 72 proposed changes was seriously “lacking”.
“The consultation process on ReturnToWorkSA’s proposed changes to its Impairment Assessment Guidelines was lacking in a number of ways,” she said.
“Firstly, the consultation process was just four weeks long in total, with only two weeks between the date of its information sessions on the changes and the date for responses from stakeholders.
“Given both the breadth and technical nature of the changes, it is simply not feasible for key stakeholders to properly examine and respond meaningfully to the proposal in such a short space of time.”
One of the key proposed changes to the ReturnToWorkSA scheme means that many workers will no longer be entitled to lump-sum compensation for injuries sustained at work, and it will be more difficult for workers who have suffered common injuries — such as neck, lower back, elbows, arms, legs and knee injuries — to receive lump sums. Lump-sum payments for serious neck, lower back, hips and knee injuries will also be reduced substantially.
The Impairment Assessment Guidelines are used to assess the degree of impairment arising from work-related injuries, with the level of compensation based on the scale of the injury according to the guidelines.
“The proposed changes to the IAGs were presented to the Society with no forewarning. The Society, and other key stakeholders, had no input into RTWSA’s review process that led to the consultation on these proposed changes,” Ms Sandford said.
“This has made providing feedback on the proposed changes exceedingly difficult on several fronts. At the information session conducted by the RTWSA just two weeks before the deadline to provide feedback, RTWSA did not identify the source of the medical advice it had obtained in formulating these proposed changes.
“The Australian Medical Association (SA) has since raised concerns about the changes and the consultation process, which has made it difficult for the Society to have confidence or trust in the medical basis for the proposed changes.”
The Labor government plans to introduce a bill which will mean that changes to the IAG will need to go through the parliamentary process in the future.
“The Society urges the government to refrain from making any decisions about the Guidelines until there has been proper consultation and parliamentary debate on the bill,” Ms Sandford added.
“These changes involve complex guidelines on medical assessments for injured workers, and how these assessments are used to determine the eligibility and sum of compensation for injured workers. Sufficient time is needed to allow thorough investigation of the proposed changes from both a medical and legal perspective, given their potential significant impacts.”