When is an injury or illness work related?

26 July 2018
In most States, to be eligible for workers’ compensation the injured worker needs to show a link between the injury and their work, usually this is shown with medical evidence, in which a Doctor says that that a worker’s employment played a significant contributing factor to the injury.

There are illnesses and injuries that can occur, which on the face of them, may not seem work related. This can include things like heart attacks, stress conditions or a worsening of a previous injuries or illness.

It is important to be aware that the views of an employer or the decision of an insurer about these matters may not always be the correct decision and often further investigation is warranted and can result in the overturning of an unfair decision.

This was the case for a young father of two, who suffered a heart attack at work. Tragically this man never regained consciousness and died in hospital in the following days after the heart attack. This worker’s employer refused to concede that his employment could have caused the heart attack.

The mere fact that the heart attack happened at work, was not sufficient under the law, to allow the worker’s family an entitlement to dependency workers’ compensation benefits. There had to be a medical link between his duties at work and the occurrence of the heart attack, the law says the worker, or his family in this case, had to prove this.

In the days leading up to the worker’s accident he had been tasked with the awkward and heavy job lifting 4 x 160kg bath tubs. He and his co-workers had to man-handle the bath tubs through an apartment and into the bathrooms.

Following this, he complained to co-workers about a sore shoulder and generally feeling unwell.  Everyone assumed that he had injured his shoulder lifting the bath tubs but four days later, the worker suffered a heart attack whilst doing his work duties.

It was necessary to prove, with medical evidence, that the duties the worker was performing at work were a direct cause of the heart attack. As you can appreciate, heart attacks can be caused by many different causes and are generally associated with poor diet and lifestyle habits.

This worker led a healthy lifestyle and exercised regularly, not fitting the usual description of someone who was likely to suffer a heart attack.

We were able to obtain expert evidence from a cardiologist who was of the opinion that:

  • the task of lifting and installing the bath tubs may well have damaged one of the worker’s coronary arteries resulting in pain in the shoulder;
  • the extreme exertion could have caused damage to the artery wall, causing blood to be trapped and budge;
  • this can also cause a significant narrowing of the coronary artery;
  • narrowing or blockage can lead to reduced blood flow and the subsequent a heart attack.

Whilst no amount of money will bring back this worker’s life or ease his family’s pain, the successful outcome meant that the worker’s family were eligible for much needed compensation to assist them in the future.

As is clear in this case, whether or not someone’s employment plays a ‘significant contributing factor’ to the development of their injury is not always straightforward. Never accept any decision or opinion on face value, particularly when you or your family’s legal rights are at stake.

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