In-depth study supports new solutions for healthcare workers

16 November 2022
University of Sydney researchers are partnering with employers to create healthier workplaces
A major study has shown that healthcare and social assistance workers are twice as likely to file a workplace compensation claim for psychological injuries, compared to a similar dataset of workers in all non-healthcare industries, including construction, retail and law-enforcement services.

The in-depth study of deidentified data from more than 200,000 workers is supported by three leading Australian universities – the University of Sydney, Monash University, and Curtin University – and was launched yesterday as part of the Design for Care consortium - a solutions-focused research project funded by icare (the NSW public insurer).

The data provides an insight of how psychological injury claims have grown rapidly in the healthcare and social assistance industries in NSW over the past nine years, with nurses, midwives, ambulance officers and social workers revealed as highly impacted jobs.

Stress and anxiety were found to be the most common type of psychological injuries, accounting for two-thirds of cases, while post-traumatic stress disorder was most common among ambulance officers.

The study found post-traumatic stress disorder is most prevalent among parademics as a source of workplace psychological injury. Picture: Adobe Stock

Report lead author Professor Alex Collie, from Monash University, said the data emphasises why evidence-informed prevention and early intervention strategies should be reinforced in health and social care settings. 

“The research team reviewed work injury claims data from the NSW workers’ compensation system to better understand the frequency, nature and duration of injuries reported by healthcare and social assistance workers,” Professor Collie said.

“We found that workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury are nearly twice as common in the NSW healthcare and social assistance industry than compared to a similar dataset of workers in all non-healthcare industries. We also found that workers with these injuries have prolonged periods of work disability, with half requiring more than 13 weeks off work.”

Professor Sharon Parker, from Curtin’s Future of Work Institute, said the data will also enrich understanding of mental health issues across the wider healthcare sector.

Associate Professor Anya Johnson

“The Design for Care project aims to provide workplaces with work design resources, well-being benchmarks and a digital platform to help prevent psychological injury amongst care workers. Our highly collaborative approach focuses on finding new ways to improve workers’ autonomy, reduce their job pressure, and enhance supportive relationships,” Professor Parker said.

Associate Professor Anya Johnson, Head of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School, believes the industry is now eager to be involved.

“The solutions are informed by research and evidence but co-designed with our industry partners, and that’s crucial," she said.

We’re not just throwing literature at the problem – we’re working to understand the particulars of each organisation and sector, produce work design strategies that can be scaled up to help the entire industry, and ultimately create mentally healthier workplaces.
Associate Professor Anya Johnson

Richard Harding, icare’s CEO said Design for Care is a key part of a mental health strategy that is already sharing more prevention focused insights and solutions – like mental health first aid training - with workplaces. 

“This important study confirms other recent academic research that reveals the major demographic shift from physical labour to more mentally demanding jobs in service industries that’s occurred over the last two decades,” Mr Harding said. 

“Today’s findings will enable us develop new solutions for our healthcare sector, adding to icare’s suite of existing early prevention and intervention programs that already support frontline staff. We look forward to working closely with employers and government agencies on the next phase of research, as we test work design solutions in their workplaces.”

The report and its findings were launched at the State of Affairs Event hosted in Sydney today.

The full report is titled, ‘Psychological injury in the New South Wales Healthcare and Social Assistance Industry: A retrospective cohort study’. 

Further information on the report, the Design for Care initiative and its university partners can be found online here.

Disclaimer: The SMART Design for Care research project is funded by icare, the NSW public insurer.

Top picture: Adobe Stock

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