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Police, Fire and Emergency Management – Workers’ Compensation

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 June 2022

Tags: Workers Rights, Police

Dr WOODRUFF - There is nearly 10 per cent of police who have some form of a workers' compensation claim. Minister, could you talk about whether that has been an increase relative to where it was last year. You talked about the Mental Health Unit so, there is a documented plan in place. Are you modelling or predicting the potential for that stress to increase? I was talking with the Commissioner earlier - the stress in the community because of COVID-19 and all the other factors happening in the world is very high relative to where it was five years ago. That is going to have an impact on an individual officer's life and their response to members in the community who are affected. Are you thinking ahead with that unit?

Mrs PETRUSMA - Because we knew that emergency services workers are susceptible to post traumatic stress disorders and other mental health illnesses that is why we introduced presumptive PTSD legislation and removed step-down provisions for our police officers. This legislation is having an impact on workers' compensation, but the Government views this as a positive because we want our emergency services personnel to come forward and get the help they need so they can remain at work.

I believe of the claims we are talking about today, there is only a small number who aren't at work at the moment. While many of them might have these claims because of their health and wellbeing and the supports that the DPFEM and the health and wellbeing unit put around these officers, many of them are still able to work. Out of those numbers, 80 are at work, albeit with some sort of support. That is why the $3 million that we have committed to the health and wellbeing unit. It is very proactive and there is a whole strategy that sits behind it. You can go online and have a look at it; a lot of it is open to people to go on and have a look at what is available, and it is also available for their families. It is available for our 5400 volunteers and their families. They can go online, they can do MyPulse, do a self-assessment and it will tell them if they come up green, red or amber, whether they need to get psychological support or nutritional support or whatever else. It is a whole health and wellbeing program that we have provided for our workforce.

Dr WOODRUFF - Other people in the room would know more about PTSD than I do, but what I understand is that after extreme events the post-event stage is important but also the two-year later stage. The royal commission into the 'Black Summer' bushfires has shown very clearly it is the two-year later stage for communities and also for early responders.

What work is being done? It is predictive work of officers who have experienced or to prevent the PTSD; we do not want our strategy to be focused on that end alone. I am sure it is not, but that work has been done predictively to put in place personal counselling and to reach out to people? The online stuff sounds great, but we all know that is not going to suit everybody and sometimes people need to be invited and 'poked' quite a lot to have conversations. Do you identify officers who have had extreme stress or who have been noted as being under stress and then look at following them along the journey of, hopefully, healing?

Mrs PETRUSMA - After any critical incident, the Critical Incident Stress Management Team comes on and phone calls are made. There is a whole heap of wraparound supports put around anyone in that situation, like at Hillcrest, for example, the health and wellbeing team was up there and they did a whole body of work. I want to applaud them for the great work they did. The commissioner will be able to outline what happens in a critical incident.

Dr WOODRUFF - In the two years afterwards as well?

Comm HINE - Thank you, minister. This is something in which the Government has invested heavily and we certainly have a great focus on it. I will hand it over to the deputy commissioner in a minute. The Hillcrest tragedy was a really good example of the number of emergency service first responders whether it was police, firefighters, SES or the ambulance that attended. The health and wellbeing area put a massive amount of resources into that response and will follow up those people as long as they need that assistance.

Just going back to prevention, sometimes you do not know the outcome of the prevention because you cannot measure it. With public health and being an immunologist, you would know that and understand that concept as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - I understand that very well.

Comm HINE - We have several approaches in relation to making sure people are supported. When you join the academy, health and wellbeing is on one of the first days where they are made aware of all the things that are available to them and their families. There is a session straight after they are inducted for the families and the recruits to understand what is available for the families and the person joining up on the job. I commend our Health and Wellbeing Director, Matt Richmond, for the amount he has done.

For example, there is MyPulse; whilst we say it is online, it has won a number of awards. It is where people can and do a survey; if they come up amber or red as a result of that survey, they are contacted within a short time and offered counselling or coaching services. I have an example. I was up in Launceston talking to the watch for a shift of uniformed police and a sergeant gave an example where they are pretty cynical about these things and thought they would go online and did the survey in relation to health and wellbeing - there is one on physical and one on mental health - did it and it came up amber. They got a phone call from our health and wellbeing area, was offered counselling services - there are six free counselling services, they went along did the coaching and said, 'Wow, I am an absolute convert.' It worked for them, they had a couple of issues but before they were affected by it, they did it, they came back and became an absolute convert. Of course, they will then spread that throughout. That is just one.

There are other health screenings where they go around the state to talk to people. Again, I made myself available for that and it is about testing blood, testing height, weight and all those things and if there is any concern, they will either refer you to your GP or to the counselling service - and that is throughout the state.

There is Ready for Response, so once a year we normally offer access to a gym at our cost for three months. We know that the relationship between physical health and mental health is very strong. The more physically active you are, the better off your mental health. We found there has been very good feedback. That is available to all the emergency services and volunteers.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is that just one facility?

Comm HINE - It is right across the state.

Dr WOODRUFF - So you can go to a gym and it is paid for, for three months? Okay, you do not have to be just be in Hobart?

Comm HINE - No. We put it out for tender, people come back and then they are selected and if you don't have a gym in your area because we have remote areas, then you can do it online as well, so we make sure that is available to you.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is for emergency services volunteers or is it staff?

Mrs PETRUSMA - The program is available for volunteers and staff. In regard to the Ready for Response that the commissioner has just outlined, 1699 individuals have participated in that program that targets wellbeing. It is a fitness and nutrition program that targets our responders and our career volunteers. MyPulse, which we have talked about a few times this morning, has been recently awarded the Australasian Fire Authorities Council's 2021 Leading Practice in Mental Health award and the Personal Injury Education Foundation's 2021 Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiative award. These are nation-leading measures that we are putting into the state.

I want to pay tribute to Inspector Matt Richmond and the team because it is very inspiring what they are doing there. Their quick response, especially during the Hillcrest incident, and the services they were offering people, were just outstanding so we want to make sure that our first responders get wraparound support, as well as their families. Their families are very much involved in this. Families can get themselves assessed or ask for help for their loved one as well.

Comm HINE - Can I just add something before we go to Deputy Commissioner Adams? We could talk about this all day because we have tested it internationally and nationally. Our health and wellbeing areas are away from our police stations because sometimes there is that stigma where people who are unwell and need help do not want to walk into a police station or emergency ambulance. We have it in the north-west, the north and down here where it is away from any police or emergency facility and they can go in and get that help.

Dep Comm ADAMS - Just a couple of additional points. We have spoken about the number of people with PTSD in terms of workers' compensation. From an organisational perspective, we are trying to look at this from a strategic point of view. We are trying to map the lifecycle of a police officer or an emergency service responder and put in interventions where we think that an individual or a police officer is at risk. It has to start from our recruitment process and it is then we have to map where we see opportunities for cumulative stress factors and where we need to have interventions. On 1 July, we are about to start a new roster. It is the first in Australia where our 24/7 police officers will be working a roster of four days on and four days off. That is an example of trying to give our police officers appropriate down time from the stressors that can come from being first responders.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is that across the state?

Dep Comm ADAMS - It is in 27/4 stations and we are working with our union in relation to an appropriate evaluation of that roster to try to identify whether there are actual benefits to our staff in the way they manage stress. The commissioner has identified a number of other strategies, as has the minister, but we need to look at it from a strategic perspective on what we can do in terms of interventions that we can map across the lifecycle of a police officer.

Mrs PETRUSMA - That includes when we put in the country police station relief policy which is a $10.6 million commitment to make sure our country police officers do take their leave and undertake training whilst their position in the community is backfield by another police officer. We did that last year.

It is all about bringing it all together and trying to make sure we do have the best supports, but the four-on, four-off roster, I have spoken to police officers, they are really welcoming because they have had a roster been in place 30-40 years. An old system that has been there a long time.

Comm HINE - Again, it is about how we are doing this in conjunction and consultation with the Police Association. We have agreed a safe staffing number at these 24/7s where this new roster comes in. We want to get the best outcome for our police officers and understand it can be very stressful work, so we want to have the best system we possibly can.

Again, it keeps evolving, we do want to have a strategic look to make sure we are offering them the best services. As you said, it is about looking after, it is not only the reactionary, it is how do we prevent it and then, if it does happen, how do we follow them up and get them back healthy again, so they can live life to the fullest as they should?