SA Worker’s Compensation Impairment Guidelines Amended
Whole Persons Impairment assessments (‘WPIA”) are a critical entitlement for injured workers once their claim for compensation is accepted under the Return to Work Act 2014 (SA), the law that governs South Australia’s workers compensation scheme.
The WPIA governs the injured workers entitlement to potentially two lump-sum compensation payments, in addition to being a gateway for some workers to be accepted as a “seriously injured worker” under the scheme (a level of injury that entitles workers to a broad range of benefits including income replacement until retirement and lifetime medical expenses).
Whole Person Impairment Assessment Entitlements Table
|Whole Person Impairment Assessment||Entitlements|
|5% or greater||Non-economic loss lump-sum|
|Between 5% and 29% inclusive||Economic loss lump-sum|
|30% or greater||All of the benefits of a “seriously injured worker”|
Proposed Changes to Worker’s Compensation Impairment Guidelines
In May 2021, Return to Work SA issued a consultation paper to stakeholders, which aimed to change the Impairment Assessment Guidelines (‘IAGs’) that direct the process for how these WPIA are performed and calculated.
It was clear that the proposed changes would significantly reduce entitlements to injured workers. Some of these changes included:
- making a deduction for pre-existing asymptomatic arthritis;
- directing the assessing doctor to automatically apply a 10% deduction where there is some evidence of a pre-existing impairment, but no objective evidence to suggest the level of that pre-existing impairment;
- tightening the requirements for cauda-equina type injuries and the impairments which flow from that injury;
- tightening the requirements to apply additional impairment percentages for an injured worker suffering from radiculopathy symptoms;
- precluding impairments for “uncomplicated” scars from surgery;
- tightening of requirements for medication-induced impairments effective the digestive system;
- narrowing an injured worker’s choice of preferred assessor (i.e. if an injury has resulted in a surgery, then a surgeon must perform the WPIA).
The decision as to whether these changes would become law was up to the sole discretion of Mr Rob Lucas, Treasurer of the SA Liberal Government.
Before publishing or amending the IAGs, the Treasurer was required to consult with stakeholders including the professional associations representing the class or classes of medical practitioners who hold accreditations to perform WPIAs. There was no requirement for Parliamentary discussion or debate regarding the proposed amendments, nor did the changes need to pass through either House.
Lawyers for Workers SA
In an effort to combat the proposed amendments and to preserve workers rights, a group of South Australian lawyers who act on behalf of injured was formed, namely the Lawyers for Workers SA. Several solicitors from Johnston Withers Lawyers continue to be involved in this group. This group, amongst other groups including the Australian Lawyers Alliance and the Australian Medical Association, actively participated in lobbying against these changes.
Those opposing the amendments supported the notion that any changes to worker’s rights ought to, at the very least, be the subject of parliamentary consideration and debate prior to becoming law.
Worker’s Compensation Impairment Guidelines Amended
Despite the efforts of those opposing the changes, on 24 August 2021, Treasurer Lucas published the revised IAGs in the South Australian Government Gazette.
Of the original 73 substantive proposed amendments, over 30 were changed and several were dropped altogether. Although this was positive, and a reflection of the dedicated lobbying on behalf of injured workers, it does not change the fact that injured workers have lost key benefits, particularly those with impairments such as lower extremity, upper extremity, spine, skin (surgical scarring) and to the digestive system.
These changes will only effect injuries that occurred after 24 August 2021.
Johnston Withers Lawyers: We’re here to help
If you are concerned about the effect of these changes on your lump sum workers compensation benefits, or require general advice on your workers compensation claim, please contact Dominic Nasone on (08) 8231 1110 or get in touch online.