Injured worker suffers lifetime PTSD after investigating gruesome heavy machinery accidents


We received yet another harrowing story overnight from an injured worker who developed debilitating, lifetime post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he was required, as part of his job, to investigate pretty gruesome heavy machinery accidents. His  case differs in that there was an extended (20+ years) period of time between exposure and diagnosis, which caused much debate as to the date of injury and under which WC Act it should be considered…

Injured worker suffers lifetime PTSD after investigating gruesome heavy machinery accidents.

I used to think I was treated this way by the insurers because my case was slightly different but now I know I am one of many.

My case differs in that there is an extended period of time between exposure and diagnosis, 20+ years. This has caused much debate as to the date of injury and under which WC Act it should be considered.

I was in a senior engineering position and as part of my duties I was required to investigate accidents, most were only minor but occasionally there were fatalities.

These accidents involved heavy machinery and were usually quite gruesome so you spent the next few hours stepping around body parts.

After attending a couple of these within a few months (pre 1988) I started to have nightmares, flashbacks and all the symptoms associated with PTSD (as I know now after being diagnosed a few years ago).

On reporting this to management at the time, I was told that it was part of the job and to deal with it, so I believed that that was what I was supposed to do.

After about 18months I could no longer cope working there and left, 12 months later convinced I would die if I stayed, we packed up and moved away.

We went about rebuilding our lives from scratch, I went from repossessing unpaid rental appliances, eventually getting retrained in IT.

I spent 26 years blaming myself for my inability to cope or to move on, fighting the nightmares, depression, flashbacks and suicidal thoughts.
The flashbacks and suicidal thoughts usually occurred several times a day. After an extended period of high stress at work in the late 2000’s, and a suicide attempt I finally got some help and was quickly diagnosed with lifetime PTSD.

I really loved my job at that time, after some treatment and time off I was keen to get back to work.

After a GRTW I was returned to my previous position. I lasted only a few weeks before a colleague passed an inane comment about something and I took offence and flew out of my chair to attack him, something I had never been close to doing before.

I took some more time off and after talking with my psychologist I had little choice, continue and risk a full nervous breakdown or give up work.

I resigned my job and have since been advised that it would be dangerous for me to return to full-time work as I am at high risk of having a breakdown or worse. I have since been assessed as TPI.

After the initial treatment the flashbacks almost ceased, as did the nightmares but I still sleep little as I am hypersensitive to any noises outside or around the house and have to investigate everyone as I fear someone maybe trying to hurt us.

I still have trouble around crowds or large numbers of people, I can’t sit with my back to a door when were out, I also still have the occasional panic or anxiety attack. I have become a bit of a hermit, not wanting to go anywhere much.

After reading what some of your Bloggers have been through I wonder if I have anything really to complain about, other than the physical issues caused by long term stress I am pretty much in tact and can mostly care for myself.

Although I can’t get those, now 30 years back to relive, I guess, like most I just want my life back.

Just as an aside, I had income insurance for about 12 years before I was diagnosed and subsequently made a claim.

You guessed it, just another insurance company and I am still getting the run-around.
Thank you so so much for sharing your story mate! Your story highlights again that injured workers become victims twice over: first they become victims of the workplace and, second, they become victims of a system that implies they are fraudulent and that, in their eyes, refuses them support and, most often, impedes their rehabilitation.

Signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell.
While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms:

  1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event
  2. Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  3. Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

Symptoms of PTSD: Re-experiencing the traumatic event

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
  • Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
  • Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)

Symptoms of PTSD: Avoidance and numbing

  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)

Symptoms of PTSD: Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Other common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone


Impairment benefit for psychiatric injuries under workcover

It is important to know that there are two types of psychiatric injuries: primary and secondary. In Victoria, the impairment threshold for a primary psychiatric injury is now a whopping 30%. A psychiatric impairment which arises “as a consequence of, or secondary to” a physical injury (i.e. injured back then developed a depression) is a secondary psychiatric injury/impairment and secondary injuries do NOT get compensated in a lump sum (however you may get some compensation for “pain and suffering” if you are able to lodge a damages claim under the Common Law). However, a primary psychiatric injury/impairment does count for the lump sum compensation.

For the purpose of assessing impairment under the Accident Compensation Act (ACA), a number of criteria must be met:

  • there has to be a diagnosable psychiatric injury (i.e. depression, post traumatic stress disorder)
  • the disorder must lead to an impairment which continues to be present at the time of the assessment and the assessing psychiatrist considers it a permanent disorder
  • there has to be a direct and clearly established link between the circumstances of injury and the psychiatric disorder
  • the psychiatric disorder cannot be explained as secondary or a consequence of physical injury


For some tips on how you can “increase” your primary psychiatric impairment read our article “impairment benefits for psychiatric injuries”

Also see Medical Panel assessment for psychiatric assessments


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3 Responses to “Injured worker suffers lifetime PTSD after investigating gruesome heavy machinery accidents”

  1. Hi,

    A quick update:
    Still no progress on the WC claim or the income insurance. QBE are still ignoring everything ‘not there problem’, it goes to an arbitration hearing next week, not hopeful.

    Westpac income insurance still giving me the run around. Sent me to Sydney for an assessment back in early July and nothing since even though I have requested updates. 9 months so far and still waiting.

    Debt collects have called, looks like I am screwed!

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    • Broken, sorry to hear! I know all to well what PTSD is like and how it can really render you totally non-functional. I actually often find it [PTSD] much worse than suffering from my serious and very painful injury, or at least equally as bad, It’s paralyzing, and like you I am crippled by it although hopeful that I will improve with time (I suffered 3 major traumas in a short time, incl. 2 near deaths).
      All I could suggest to you is to get a lawyer on board, if not already done. From my own experience without legal rep you will simply not succeed in obtaining what you legally are entitled to and the insurers will trample all over you, knowing that you have no legal rep.
      Even to obtain TPD insurance benefits it is highly recommended you do it with a lawyer – there are many small prints in the insurance clauses – some are pretty outrageous and will for example state that to be classified as TDP you should not be able eat on your own (unassisted); toilet on your own and stuff like that. Many have a list of “5 criteria” of which you need to meet at least “3”…
      Your case will inevitably take time as it is “complex” (in the eyes of the insurer), especially as it developed “over time” and they are probably snooping themselves sick into all your past medical records to find something, anything they can hold against you (rather than blame the workplace).
      It is hard enough for a “straight forward case” of severe PTSD, believe me.
      Some of those insurance doctors (IMEs) are also extremely biased when it comes to making psych assessments. I still remember the first I had and whilst I was utterly paralyzed from fear (and all other symptoms of severe PTSD) after my brutal workplace assault, the shrink gave me 5% primary impairment (WTF!) but heaps of secondary impairment, if you know what I mean. Ridiculous. Thanks God for Medical Panels in that respect.
      Whilst I do not want to dishearten you at all, just know that it will be a long process (and a painful one) and that you really do need legal representation (no win no fee). But that is my opinion.

      So hang in there, be patient, be strong, kick butt and talk to us!

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      workcovervictim August 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm
      • Had the WCC arbitration hearing with QBE, only problem was their Barrister didn’t show and they didn’t let anyone know. My case has now gone to WCC for determination. Westpac Ins. have denied my income protection claim as well, so that has been referred to my solicitor for review as some of the statements they used in the response were false and may constitute deformation. Even a statement from their Senior Manager was incorrect. I have also lodged a complaint with the FOS (Financial Ombudsman Service).

        All these insurance companies seem to have the same adversarial  approach and prey on the vulnerable







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