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Customs staff top list for public service compensation

Australia's Customs agency is the public service's most dangerous workplace in terms of compensation claims.

Australia's Customs agency is the public service's most dangerous workplace in terms of compensation claims. Photo: Supplied

Australia's Customs agency is the public service's most dangerous workplace, with its officers claiming workers' compensation at nearly twice the average rate of other departments.

Customs work has become more hazardous than Australian Federal Police duty, according to figures published for the first time by federal workplace insurer Comcare.

Customs says its staff face tougher physical conditions than the average public servant and that full safety and injury-prevention programs are there for its officers.

With the cost of psychological injury claims across the government continuing to rise, Comcare's top executive warned on Friday that public sector bosses needed to pay attention to their workers' mental and physical health.

The Agriculture Department and national broadcaster ABC also emerged as poor performers in protecting their staff from injury and work-related illness and getting them back to health.

The data also shows the nation's tax officers are putting themselves in harm's way when they go to work each day, with the Tax Office making the top five danger list of the federal government's large agencies.

Workers' compensation claims for the Defence Force are administered under a separate scheme.

The newly released figures also show that big government departments, on average, are more dangerous than their smaller counterparts with significantly fewer injury claims among operations with fewer than 1000 staff. Smaller agencies had an average of 12.5 Comcare claims per 1000 workers in 2012-13 while departments of more than 5000 employees clocked up an average of 18.6 bids for compo payouts per 1000 staff.

Customs and Border Protection notched up more than 30 claims per 1000 officers, with 24 of them being accepted and paid out, a worse record than the Federal Police, with 29 and 23 respectively.

Comcare accepted fewer claims overall in 2012-13 than the previous year but the cost of payouts, including medical, legal and other overheads, grew by nearly $40 million to $360 million.

The spiralling cost of the scheme is due in part to an increase in mental stress claims, which usually keep workers away from their desks longer than physical injuries.

Comcare chief executive Paul O'Connor said the new figures showed the public sector needed to do more to get its sick and injured staff back to health and back to work.

''This is a particular challenge for mental health conditions,'' Mr O'Connor said. ''Stigma and misunderstanding get in the way of people being welcomed and supported back to good and meaningful work as soon as possible.''

A Customs spokeswoman said on Friday that the vast majority of the agency's Comcare claims were for physical injuries, with 113 such claims against just 16 for mental stress. ''The claim profile is consistent in that the claims are predominantly musculoskeletal disorders, including sprains and strains, and slips, trips and falls, other physical injuries and then mental stress,'' she said.

''In contrast to many areas of the Australian Public Service, ACBPS [Australian Customs and Border Protection Service] operates in higher risk environments. This includes complex maritime operations, law enforcement and compliance activities such as cargo and mail screening, which involve a high degree of physical and manual work.''

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department said its claim rate used to be worse and had improved by 32 per cent since 2009. ''The department has a highly operational workforce that means our staff are exposed to some risks that are not present in other APS workplaces,'' she said.

An ABC spokesman said the nature of the broadcaster's work occasionally exposed its staff to severe injuries.

''Given the nature of some of the work ABC employees carry out, it is reasonably expected the ABC will have a higher exposure to injuries with longer rehab times than other agencies,'' he said.

An AFP spokeswoman said the force's officers operated in a tough environment. ''Policing is, by nature, a physically demanding and operationally focused career,'' she said.

''The range of physical, biological, psychological and environmental factors faced by AFP members are reflected in the incidence and type of claims.''

Most dangerous agencies with 1000 or more employees

  1. Customs and Border Protection
  2. Australian Federal Police
  3. Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  4. Australian Taxation Office
  5. Australian Broadcasting Corporation
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