Once a worker’s injuries have reached maximum medical improvement, they are entitled to have their injuries assessed, pursuant to section 22 of the Return to Work Act (“RTW Act”), to determine their entitlement to lump sum compensation. These assessments are called Whole Person Impairment (WPI) Assessments or Permanent Impairment Assessments.
On 1 April 2020, Return to Work SA (“RTWSA”) announced that, in light of COVID-19, all permanent impairment assessment referrals would cease the following day, 2 April 2020. This means that RTWSA are currently refusing to arrange any permanent impairment assessments and workers are unable to have their WPI assessed. RTWSA announced that a review of their position would be undertaken by 30 June 2020, but have provided no certainty that their position will change.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many members of the community may find themselves in situations of financial difficulty. For workers that have suffered injury in employment and have a reduced working capacity, this financial strain is heightened.
The workers compensation scheme in SA provides injured workers with an entitlement to claim lump sum compensation for their injuries, but this compensation can only be accessed once their injuries have been assessed at a permanent impairment assessment. This compensation provides significant financial assistance to many injured workers who suffer from a permanent impairment as a result of their work injury.
We have found it is possible to conduct permanent impairment assessments in a variety of ways without unduly exposing the injured worker or assessor to risk associated with COVID-19. These include assessments by video-link, telephone or “on the papers”. Further, many assessors have instituted safety measures to ensure the risk of COVID-19 is minimised, such as hand hygiene, the wearing of personal protective clothing such as masks, minimising the length of any face-to-face assessment and social distancing.
Whilst many injured workers may wish to defer their permanent impairment assessment to avoid any COVID-19 risk, some workers do not, particularly if they are suffering financial strain or suffer from medical conditions which are life limiting in any event.
If you have had your permanent impairment assessment cancelled or deferred and would like advice on how to proceed, please contact our workers compensation team on 8213 1000 for further advice.