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The scheme

The Comcare scheme

Our role is to support participation and productivity through healthy and safe workplaces. We also aim to minimise the impact of harm in workplaces covered by Comcare.

We administer the Commonwealth's statutory framework for rehabilitation and workers' compensation, and we are the national work health and safety regulator under the federal Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

Comcare also:

The Comcare scheme:

  • works in partnership with employers and their employees to prevent workplace injuries
  • appropriately uses regulatory sanctions for any demonstrable failure of the employer’s duty of care
  • empowers employers to work with their employees to maintain an employee with a workplace injury at work, or to achieve an early, safe and durable return to work
  • appropriately compensates and supports employees with a workplace injury.

Explore more detailed work health and safety and workers’ compensation statistics

Compare performance information across Australia and New Zealand

Scheme coverage

Premium paying entities including ACT Government

The Comcare scheme delivers a consistent set of benefits to employees regardless of the geographic location of their usual place of work or their location at the time of injury.
Full time equivalent employees covered under the SRC Act (2017-18)
Proportion of total Australian workforce by industry type (top 4)
Public administration and safety
Financial and insurance services Professional, Scientific and Technical
Transport, postal and warehousing
Information, media and telecommunications
2017-18
% Australian industry (2016-17)
Public administration and safety
Financial and insurance services Professional, Scientific and Technical
Transport, postal and warehousing
Information, media and telecommunications

Prevention

Comcare works with employers, employees and other stakeholders to improve work health, prevention, safety and rehabilitation outcomes. Our aim is to make workplaces safer through prevention of injury and effective compliance.

The most recent comparative performance data shows that Comcare has the lowest injury incidence and frequency rates of any jurisdiction.

We will continue working towards becoming a zero fatality scheme—no workplace death is ever acceptable.

Comcare also improves work health and safety outcomes including programs to encourage early intervention after workplace injury and to promote the Health Benefits of Work.

Workplace incidents

Persons conducting a business or undertaking are required to notify Comcare of incidents that result in the death, serious injury or illness of a person, or that are dangerous in nature. The WHS Act defines which events are notifiable.

Has an injury, illness or dangerous incident occurred at your workplace? If so, you may be legally required to notify Comcare about what has happened.

In 2017–18, Comcare was notified of 1883 incidents. Of these, 1377 were assessed as notifiable under the WHS Act.
Dangerous
incident
Serious injury or illness
Fatalities

The most prevalent incident types (2017-18)

Contact with electricity
Single contact with chemical or substance
Being hit by falling objects
Vehicle incident

Regulatory response

Comcare has a compliance and enforcement role covering both work health and safety and workplace rehabilitation regulation. This role combines proactive and reactive elements. Comcare’s regulatory activities may be undertaken in response to workplace incidents and notifications, but they may also be triggered by other means such as complaints or allegations, media articles, research and reports, or Comcare’s analysis of workplace risks and hazards.

Comcare's Compliance and Enforcement Policy details our regulatory approach.

Breakdown of regulatory activities (2017–18)
Total Incidents and Concerns Reported
Inspectorate Compliance Enforcement Activities
Statutory Notices Issued
Prosecutions Commenced

Safety systems

Comcare conducts an annual program of work health and safety and rehabilitation management system audits to identify positive aspects of the systems in place and highlight any deficiencies that need to be addressed.

Our safety system audits use a range of audit tools and templates.

In addition, in 2017–18 Comcare made over 5,500 authorisation and approval decisions to ensure high risk work activities are only undertaken after the suitability of persons, things or processes have been assessed.

Hazardous chemicals authorisations
High risk plant registrations
High risk work licences

Recent enforcement activity

Comcare applies a range of compliance tools prior to using enforcement options. Some compliance tools are backed by legislated enforcement options, and Comcare uses these options when necessary and appropriate.

On 26 July 2013 at the Urban Superway worksite on South Road, Angle Park, SA, workers were working under lights at a yard where sections of road bridge were being loaded onto trucks using two large portal cranes. One of the cranes collided with an elevated work platform, pushing the platform’s basket under the adjacent crane. The worker operating the platform was unable to climb out of the basket. He suffered leg and back injuries.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions took carriage of proceedings against John Holland Pty Ltd in the Magistrates Court of SA in Adelaide.

John Holland Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to three (3) counts of failing in its duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) and was subsequently fined $281,250 on 29 May 2017.

On 25 July 2013 there was a chemical fire at Cleanaway’s (formerly Transpacific Industries) Wingfield Chemical Waste Process Plant near Port Adelaide.

Workers were conducting Cleanaway’s first production-scale trial to distil a new industrial solvent from a chemical mixture. A fire emerged from the distillation still after it was opened, injuring a nearby worker.

Cleanaway pleaded guilty to one (1) count of failing in its duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth). On 19 April 2017, Cleanaway was convicted and fined $650 000 in the District Court of SA over the incident.

On 15 June 2012 at Urban Superway Project site, Angle Park, South Australia, workers were installing a fibrous cement stormwater pipe when a portion broke. It fell 14.5 meters hitting two cars below which had stopped at traffic lights, smashing the windscreen of one vehicle. The section of pipe that fell weighed between 36 and 48 kilograms.

John Holland Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to two (2) counts of failing in its duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) and was subsequently fined $130,000 on 3 June 2016. This was the first criminal prosecution conducted under the Commonwealth WHS Act.

Claims

Our collaborative efforts in prevention and early intervention are getting results. Through stronger partnerships with employers and our focus on improving recovery and return to work outcomes we are making workplaces safer.

Comparative data shows that the Comcare scheme has fewer workplace injuries and better return to work outcomes for injured employees than any other Australian scheme.

Accepted claims rate (per 1000 FTE)

Over the past five years the number of new claims received and accepted in the Comcare scheme has been trending down.

Did you know you can lodge claim forms online?

See how your organisation compares.

Get more detailed claims data.

By type, cause and body part (2017-18)

Psychological injuries are shown to lead to employees having more time off work and higher claim costs. Comcare is committed to reducing psychological harm in the workplace through our Health Benefits of Work program.

Type of claim
Injury
Disease
Psychological
Cause of claim (top 5)
Cause of claim (top 4)
Body stressing
Falls, trips and slips of a person
Being hit by moving objects
Vehicle incidents and other
Mental stress

Body part injured (top 4)

Psychological
Shoulder
Elbow
Lower back
Ankle
Wrist
Fingers
Knee

Time off work (compensated)

Evidence shows that after spending 20 days off work, an employee has a 70 per cent chance of ever returning to work. After 70 days, the likelihood of returning to work drops to just 35 per cent. Read about Comcare's return to work rehabilitation framework.

Number of weeks off work
(2017-18)
Median
Average
Time off work durations (2017-18)

Improving return to work outcomes remains the key challenge in the scheme. Comcare works in collaboration with employers to ensure employees receive early and appropriate treatment services and an effective rehabilitation program. Comcare also works with employers to identify flexible arrangements to maximise an employee's capacity for work.

<4 weeks
4<13 weeks
13<26 weeks
26<52 weeks
>52 weeks

Costs

In recent years in the Comcare scheme, the length of time that ill and injured employees are away from their work has increased and psychological injury costs have risen. Comcare has continued to work with scheme participants to achieve a sustainable and better practice scheme resulting in decreasing claims costs paid over the past four years.

Ask your Comcare account manager about how you can impact on your organisation’s claims costs, or use our Customer Information System.

Total claims costs

Claims costs by type (2017-18)

Time off work (compensated)
Medical
Legal
Other costs
Rehabilitation services

Average cost paid per claim (2017-18)

Reports the average paid cost per active claim (claim that received a payment in the reporting period).

Cost per claim
Time off work (compensated) claims
Medical only claims

Reviews

The Comcare scheme has both informal and formal avenues to review a decision about workers’ compensation. The scheme works to resolve these reviews as quickly as possible and monitors their outcomes to inform continuous improvement and effective claims management.
Decision disputed and upheld (2017-18)
All Paid Claims
Reconsideration rate
Reconsideration
affirmation rate
Appealed
to AAT
AAT decisions
affirmation rate

Recent cases

Comcare and the SRCC monitor Court and Administrative Appeals Tribunal proceedings concerning the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. The SRCC has a policy on reporting potentially scheme significant matters.
What is administrative action taken ‘in respect of the employee’s employment’?

Full Federal Court — [2018] FCAFC 26 (26 April 2018)

Tribunal — [2017] AATA 1228 (8 August 2017)

The employee claimed compensation for a psychological condition after his employer transferred him under a ‘regular mobility process’ (RMP) policy. The RMP policy provided that employees could be moved between divisions after they had worked in one division for over three years.

Comcare denied liability because the transfer under the RMP policy was a ‘reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner’ (RAA) in respect of the employee’s employment. The Tribunal set aside Comcare’s decision, finding that the transfer was not an RAA because the RMP Policy applied to all employees and was not directed specifically to the employee.

Comcare’s appeal to the Full Federal Court was allowed. The Full Court found the transfer was administrative action because:
  • it was not part of the employee’s ordinary work duties;
  • it was not a direction about the employee’s duties or how to perform those duties;
  • even though the RMP Policy applied to all employees, the transfer decision was directed specifically to the employee and his employment.
What constitutes ‘out of, or in the course of employment’?

Tribunal — [2018] AATA 670 (26 March 2018)

The employee suffered a physical injury while playing netball at the Department of Human Services (DHS) Games, held over a weekend.

Comcare denied liability because the injury did not arise out of, or in the course of, his employment. While the employer promoted the games, participation was voluntary and participants had to arrange their own travel and accommodation.

The Tribunal affirmed Comcare’s decision. The Tribunal found:
  • The employee was not deemed to be in the course of employment because a weekend away is not being ‘temporarily absent’ from work at the direction or request of the employer (s 6(1)(c)).
  • Because the injury occurred on a weekend, there needed to be a closer association with employment before the injury could be compensable. The Tribunal stated that this may have been satisfied if the employer directed or requested that the employee attend the games. It was not sufficient that the employee was induced or encouraged to attend.
What is the proper statutory construction of ‘injury (other than a disease)’? Can the decision maker reconsider whether the employee still suffers from the ‘injury’ each time a compensation determination is made?

Full Federal Court — [2017] FCA 143 (5 September 2017)

Tribunal — [2016] AATA 459 (30 June 2016)

The employee worked at the Canberra Hospital for a short period in early 2011. Comcare initially accepted liability for an adjustment reaction suffered by the employee during that time. Comcare determined in 2013 that it was no longer liable as the adjustment reaction had resolved. The employee applied to have that decision reviewed by the Tribunal.

The Tribunal (Humphries DP) affirmed Comcare’s decision on the grounds that:

  1. the adjustment reaction was properly categorised as an ‘ailment’, not an ‘injury,’ due to the condition being suffered as a result of a slow build-up of hurt and resentment rather than a climactic episode; and
  2. while the ailment had not resolved, non-employment factors had pushed the employment factors into the background, so that employment no longer contributed to the ailment to a significant degree.

The Full Court of the Federal Court (Kenny, Tracey and Bromberg JJ) unanimously upheld the Tribunal’s finding that the adjustment reaction was an ailment. While ailments and injuries are not mutually exclusive, the Tribunal had properly considered the nature and incidents of the psychological change and concluded that it was not an injury in the primary sense. The Tribunal was entitled to rely on the lack of any suddenness in the psychological change, even though suddenness is not essential for a condition to be an ‘injury’.

The Full Court also found that the Tribunal was able to consider whether employment still contributed to the ailment to a significant degree. The Tribunal’s approach of weighing up the employment and non-employment factors in finding that the employee was no longer entitled to compensation was correct at law.

What does ‘as a result of’ mean for the purposes of the reasonable administrative action exclusion?

Full Federal Court - [2017] FCAFC 64 (24 April 2017)

Federal Court – [2016] FCA 709 (15 June 2016)

Tribunal – [2015] AATA 189 (27 March 2015)

Dr Lim was employed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). She was responsible for responding to complaints and inquiries made by members of the public. In March 2011, Dr Lim made a claim for workers’ compensation for ‘adjustment reaction with depressant anxiety’. She alleged this was caused by workplace bullying and harassment related to a disagreement with her supervisor about the use of template letters to respond to inquiries that could not be properly dealt with under the Telecommunications Act 1997.

Comcare found that Dr Lim’s psychiatric condition was contributed to, to a significant degree, by employment but denied liability on the basis that the disease was suffered ‘as a result of’ reasonable administrative action, taken in a reasonable manner (RAA). The Tribunal affirmed this decision, finding that:

  • Dr Lim suffered her psychiatric condition on 18 March 2011, rather than September or October 2010 as alleged by Dr Lim; and
  • this condition was caused by
    • dealings with her supervisor over the use of template letters, and ACMA’s response to enquiries under the Telecommunications Act; and
    • a performance appraisal on 31 January 2011, which the Tribunal found was RAA.

As the Tribunal found that the RAA contributed to Dr Lim’s psychiatric condition, it concluded that the RAA exclusion applied and her condition was not compensable. The Federal Court affirmed this decision. Dr Lim appealed to the Full Federal Court which unanimously allowed her appeal. Both the Tribunal and Federal Court decisions were made before the High Court’s decision in Comcare v Martin [2016] HCA 43 but the Full Federal Court appeal was heard after that decision was handed down.

In Comcare v Martin the High Court held that the ‘as a result of’ causation test in the RAA exclusion requires the decision-maker to consider whether the employee would have suffered the disease without the RAA. In Lim, the Full Federal Court followed the High Court and clarified the application of this test where the only causes of the claimed condition are employment-related. In such cases, the decision-maker need only consider whether the employee would have suffered the ailment (or aggravation) if the RAA had not been taken. If the ailment would not have been suffered without the RAA, the ‘as a result of’ RAA test is satisfied. Consequently, the Full Federal Court found that the Tribunal did not properly consider the ‘as a result of’ causation test as expressed by the High Court in Comcare v Martin when finding that the RAA exclusion applied in Dr Lim’s case.

The Court also commented that where a disease is caused by both employment and non-employment factors, the decision-maker also needs to consider whether employment would still have contributed to the ailment, to a significant degree, without the RAA.

Financial performance

The Comcare scheme has seen significant improvement in financial performance and has shown strong performance in comparison to other schemes. Claim frequency is reducing, claim duration after injury is beginning to improve and premium rates are falling. These trends are having a very positive impact on the financial position of the premium scheme.

Cost
Claim frequency
Claim duration

Premium rate

Scheme notional rate

The scheme notional premium rate proportions the premium rate for government sector and licensees by FTE.

The scheme notional premium rate proportions the premium rate for government sector and licensees by FTE.

Comcare continues to focus on strategic projects targeting return to work outcomes, efficient and effective claims management processes, and risk based file reviews. These have contributed to a significant reduction in premium claims costs and outstanding claims liabilities.

Use our premium calculation tool to gain a better understanding of how investment today may impact future premiums.

See how you compare.

Our target is to achieve a 1.1 per cent average premium rate in the scheme. In 2017–18, 79 per cent of employers are already at or below 1.1 per cent.

Funding ratio (government sector only)

The percentage of premium related total assets to premium related total liabilities.

The Comcare insured scheme is fully funded. Recovery of the funding position for the scheme has been faster than expected, the result of reductions in liabilities from reductions in claims received, accepted and improved claims management operations. Restoration of the schemes funding position has been achieved three years ahead of target.

Administration cost ratio (government sector only)

Claims administration costs as a proportion of total scheme expenditure.

Comcare aims to reduce the administration cost ratio to 20 per cent by 2018–19, measured by Safe Work Australia’s comparative monitoring methodology, to ensure cost effective management of the fund.

Summary

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Page last updated: 12 Sep 2018