Changes to silicosis and similar occupational diseases - Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Act 2022

Information about changes which became law on 16 March 2022.

Please note

As part of the Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Act 2022, changes to silicosis and similar occupational diseases will commence on 1 July 2022.

Overview

The Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Act 2022 (the Act) will strengthen health and safety laws to provide more support to workers and families affected by the debilitating effects of silicosis and similar occupational diseases.

The Act recognises the progressive and ongoing nature of diseases such as silicosis, and will mean that workers with eligible diseases will not need to prove that their injury has stabilised to access lump sum payments.

Eligible workers will also be able to make subsequent applications if their impairments progress.

Other amendments include increased counselling support for the families of workers with silicosis and similar diseases.

The Act amends the Accident Compensation Act 1985 (AC Act) and the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (WIRC Act) to:

  • improve compensation arrangements for workers with silicosis and similar occupational diseases, and deliver on aspects of the Government's Silica Action Plan, including an extension to eligibility for family counselling services.

Workers' compensation entitlements changes

Five changes relate to silica-related diseases compensation.

Recent implementation of the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation Act 2019 (FPRC Act) has allowed WorkSafe to accept more occupational cancer claims by firefighters as work-related.

The Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation Scheme (the scheme) accepts a small number of other cancer-related claims when liability can be established. Recent scheme experience demonstrates that workers with cancer can encounter the same difficulty as workers with silicosis in establishing that their disease has stabilised if they experience further impairment after an initial assessment.

The requirements to access impairment benefit compensation prior to stabilising or for further deterioration will also require WorkSafe or the self-insurer to be satisfied that the disease is unlikely to stabilise or further deteriorate. Without evidence of further deterioration or an inability to stabilise, these provisions will not apply.

Eligibility

The changes will apply to eligible progressive diseases diagnosed on or after 1 June 2016. The changes are intended to be retrospective and also apply to any new impairment benefit (IB) application by a worker with a prescribed disease diagnosed after 1 June 2016, where they have not already received the maximum level of compensation or WPI assessment. This will be a new decision on entitlement. The date 1 June 2016 ensures certainty for the scheme in forecasting impacts and determining eligibility while also aligning with the intended inclusion of cancer claims.

Workers affected

The entitlement to further common law damages for the development of a silica-related disease will apply to any worker with silicosis or a silica-related disease who applies for damages after the commencement of the Act.

The improved entitlements to impairment benefit compensation and family counselling will be available to any worker with an accepted claim for an eligible progressive disease diagnosed on or after 1 June 2016.

Why are there compensation changes for certain diseases?

On 1 May 2019, the Victorian Government announced its Silica Action Plan to protect Victorian workers from exposure to silica dust. As part of the announcement, the Government also announced it had asked WorkSafe to review relevant compensation provisions in the WIRC Act and the AC Act that impact injured workers with silica-related diseases.

WorkSafe's review found that some injured workers who made claims for impairment benefit compensation or who sought damages at common law might have experienced undesirable outcomes under the previous legislation. This was due to the previous legislative framework not fully accounting for the progressive nature of certain conditions, such as silica-related diseases, and uncertainty about further silica-related diseases the injured worker might develop over their lifetime.

Are the compensation amendments retrospective?

The amendment providing common law damages for silicosis or silica-related diseases where the injured worker develops further related diseases is not retrospective. Any award of damages previously made has been issued on a full and final basis. The amendments allow any eligible workers’ future action for damages to consider these provisions and set aside a future award in recognition that further related diseases might develop.

The amendments to impairment benefit compensation will apply to any claim for IB compensation made by a worker with an eligible progressive disease. A worker with a previous IB payment for an eligible progressive disease, and who experiences further impairment after the commencement of these amendments might be eligible to receive a further assessment of impairment. 

Family counselling entitlements changes

Eligibility for compensation has been extended for family counselling services to family members of workers diagnosed with a work-related eligible progressive disease, including:

  • silicosis and silica-related diseases
  • asbestosis and related conditions, as defined in the Asbestos Disease Compensation Act 2008
  • occupational cancer.

Up to $6,820 (indexed annually) is available for counselling services for family members.

The amendment addresses the gap in support for families where the occupational disease is progressive but death might not be imminent.

The amendment addresses the gap in support for families where the occupational disease is progressive but death might not be imminent.

View the Act

The Act and other Parliamentary documents can be found on the Victorian Legislation website.

Further information

You can also find out more about the proposed Act by contacting a WorkSafe advisor.

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