As illustrated in Chapter 2 of this report, the human impact of an industrial death is catastrophic and life-long. For the families of those individuals killed at work, the notification of the death of their loved one is just the beginning of a long and harrowing journey which can take many, many years to resolve and cause compounding trauma along the way. Research has shown that for every individual killed at work, there will be typically be 12 to 20 immediate family members, close friends and colleagues who will be affected.
Dr Lynda Matthews, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney who has undertaken in-depth research on the impact of industrial deaths on families, painted a compelling picture of the typical challenges families must face in the aftermath of a workplace fatality:
Without doubt, there are many stakeholders that have an interest in the frameworks surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia but none more than the next of kin and families of the workers who have died at work. They are, without question, the most affected. Families place great value on the formal investigations and prosecutorial activities that follow a death, because they provide an opportunity to gain information about the context of the incident and what and who are responsible for the death. There is a strong desire for measures to be taken to ensure hazards are addressed so that something positive comes from the work tragedy and other families do not have to experience the same grief. They are often disappointed. Community expectations are that the system provides some type of legal justice for the death if it's not identified as a true accident. In the eyes of many families, justice is rarely done.
Families frequently face significant challenges in navigating the system. It's a new system. They don't know. And the procedures tend not to deliver the information, justice and support they initially expect. The processes are not transparent. Families are frustrated by the wait times, timelines and delays that they face in getting information. It can often be up to eight years. The impact of this lengthy process increases the intensity and duration of families' grief reactions and disrupts their ability to adapt to life without their loved ones.
Mental health problems are far too common and are influenced by the trauma of the death, which is often quite violent, the lack of timely information on matters related to the formal processes, the lengthy investigative and court proceedings, poor quality investigations and court procedures that hampered finding out what happened and why, little opportunity to provide input to the formal procedures—that is, being completely powerless—poor outcomes, no-one being held accountable, lack of faith in the justice system and lack of good emotional support. This situation is often compounded by ongoing financial stress and strain following, generally, the loss of the main breadwinner, and inadequate workers compensation payments—if, indeed, they are eligible for this support.
This chapter turns to matters that affect families in the aftermath of an industrial death, including:
the notification of death;
the engagement between work health and safety (WHS) regulators and families during the investigation and prosecution process;
ways in which WHS regulators can learn from impacted families in order to improve their services; and
the ongoing support families require to navigate the complexities of the legislative framework, whilst concurrently dealing with immense grief.
Notification of death
The committee received concerning evidence from impacted families about the manner in which they were notified that their loved one had been killed at work.
For example, Mrs Janine Brownlee, mother of Jack Brownlee who was one of two men killed by a trench collapse in Victoria in March 2018, described the distressing way her family was notified that Jack had been severely injured in the incident:
It was on social media. The boy's grandmother was sitting there, seeing it on social media. She could not believe it. She was saying how tragic it was for those poor parents and how bad it was. She didn't realised it was her grandson in the trench. Jack spent 3½ hours in that trench. They had to get the trench rescue equipment from Warrnambool. They did not even think to ring the Ballarat mine rescue squad, which is three kays [kilometres] away. They didn't even think to ring. I don't know what happened that they didn't even think to ring Ballarat mine. They have trench rescue. They work underground. No-one rang. No-one even rang us. We weren't at the scene. Lana [the partner of Jack's co-worker Charlie Howkins who was also killed] worked around the corner. She was at the scene. She was there, but no-one updated her and told her.
Jack had only been working at that company eight weeks. He was there only eight weeks. They had protocols. When Jack first started, he had to fill out a form of emergency contacts. No-one contacted us and told us. I got a message from the manager at 23 past five, saying, 'Janine, by the time you get this call, you'll be sitting by Jack's bedside.' That's the message I got left—'sitting by his bedside'. The boy was fighting for his life. He fought so hard. It's just wrong…
Why didn't they put Jack on the phone to us? They knew, once they released the boys, they only had a certain chance of survival. Why didn't they put Jack on? He was there for three hours. He was conscious. Why didn't they put Jack on the phone to his family so we could at least talk to him and tell him we'd meet him at the hospital? Why didn't they do it? There was no consideration. No-one rang us. They didn't ring any of the families. The three of us sitting here [Janine Brownlee, Dave Brownlee and Lana Cormie]—they never rang any of us to speak to us. It's wrong.
Dr Lana Cormie, whose husband Charlie was killed in the same trench collapse, advised the committee that she was not notified in a timely or appropriate manner about the death. As she explained to the committee at a public hearing:
…in my case, I've just seen a helicopter hovering above my work, because my husband was dead underneath it, and no-one bothered to call me.
Dr Cormie further elaborated on the matter in her written submission:
We were not notified at all.
I found out via a friend that there had been an incident in the area and had to go to the roadblock and stand by the side of the road to await the news that my husband had been killed HOURS earlier.
His workmate [Jack Brownlee], who was fatally injured and died the following day, was still alive and conscious at this time. If his family had been notified then they may have had the opportunity to say goodbye to their dying son and comfort him in his distress.
No workmate, employer, or member of the emergency services contacted either family.
Ms Ashlea Cunico, whose father Robert was killed in Western Australia in 2018, advised that it took four hours for her family to be notified of the death, when two police officers turned up at her parents' home.
Mrs Susan Gallina, whose brother Brian was killed in 2006, emphasised to the committee the importance of notifying the next of kin about a death. She stated that it took a number of hours for her family to be notified of the death and that she heard the news of the incident on the radio prior to knowing it was her brother. She described telling her father that his son had died, and then the agonising wait to be contacted by the authorities:
The process of that day then evolved into me going back into a shopping centre where my dad was shopping, crying, trying to find him and eventually locking eyes with him and telling him the news that my brother was dead. We held onto each other as we walked out, confused, without knowing any of the details. We went home and we waited and nobody contacted us. We knew nothing. We didn't know where he was. Where was his body? What was happening to him?
Dr Matthews drew the committee's attention to the findings of a 2017 report titled 'Death at Work: Improving support for families' (Death at Work report) conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney between 2012 and 2016 on the various consequences of fatal work injuries on surviving families. The findings indicated that families' experiences of the formal responses to the death were negatively impacted by a lack of timely and accurate information:
Increasing use of social media means that the formal notification of the death is sometimes provided after the family has been made aware of the fatality. The legal nature of the next of kin status also resulted in some immediate family members not being provided with information regarding legal decisions being made or about the progress of formalities following the death. Parents and siblings, in particular, found this distressing.
The Death at Work report also made several recommendations about how to remedy the problem:
Recommendation 1: In the context of increased use of and immediacy of social media, strategies should be developed to keep families sensitively informed during the time when often lengthy identification processes take place.
Recommendation 2: That workplaces keep a mandatory, up-to-date list of workers’ next of kin and immediate family (particularly parents).
Recommendation 3: That authorities responsible for notifying family about the death ask the next of kin, employers, and co-workers about immediate family members who should be provided with information about the death and ensuing formalities.
Recommendation 4: That policies, protocols and documents be revised to replace “next of kin” with “next of kin and immediate family members” – as determined by enquiries with next of kin, employers, and co-workers.
The committee is of the strong opinion that there must be formalised guidelines for WHS regulators and other authorities (such as emergency services) to adhere to when notifying a family that their loved one has been killed or severely injured in an industrial incident.
The experiences of many families that spoke to the committee clearly indicate that there are severe problems with the way in which this sensitive task is currently carried out. Such inadequacy only serves to compound the trauma for families whose lives are suddenly plunged into tragedy, and the committee finds it wholly unacceptable that this is the case.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia engage with WHS regulators and emergency services providers in each jurisdiction to develop clear guidelines for the notification of families of an industrial death, with a focus on timeliness and the manner in which the notification is made.
Engagement between WHS regulators and families
Dr Matthews highlighted the importance that families place on the formal processes that follow a death and the ways in which their engagement with the regulator can influence their experience of the system.
Numerous families informed the committee that they were dissatisfied with the engagement they had with the relevant WHS regulator during the investigation and prosecution process. They advised they felt excluded, isolated and without a voice, which in turn led them to feel extremely frustrated and distressed. They indicated that they felt they were not classed as key stakeholders in the processes and had to push to get information every step of the way.
In relation to the investigative process, Dr Matthews observed:
The investigation is something that families can be involved in. Families have a lot of information that currently is not being used, accessed or sourced. When families get two different bits of information, it raises their suspicions about the adequacy of the investigation—the factors that are been looking looked at, cover-ups that might be happening—and the problem is that they're not able to get any information to quell their concerns. They're not able to talk with the employer or with the people who were with their loved one at the time of death or the incident, because they're lawyered up and things shut down, so they're are excluded from that level of information. They try and talk with the inspectorate or regulators, and they tend not to get any information because the investigation's ongoing. More often than not, it's the families that have to be constantly reaching out and making contact, rather than the people that are doing the investigating keeping families informed of where they're up to and what's happening.
Ms Bette Phillips-Campbell, Program Manager for Uniting GriefWork, made a similar comment regarding how families can feel isolated during the legal process:
The bereaved are often forgotten in the legal processes that follow the workplace death. During the legal processes after the death, the families need to have answers to what has happened. WorkSafe do their best to do that, however the legal journey often means that answers may not come until the court case is over and even then some of the questions are not answered. We usually look to the coroner's report for answers as to what really happened. It is not unusual for families to feel that they are forgotten, as the case can take a long time to be finalised… it can be several years down the track before it is heard in court.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Work Safety Commissioner Mr Greg Jones informed the committee it was absolutely critical for regulators to be completely open and transparent in order to provide the family with closure on the incident.
Mr Jones outlined in detail the interaction his team had with a family in order to illustrate the way this open and transparent engagement can be done:
We have a very open policy with the family. As a good example, it's almost exactly two years ago that we had the fatality with a crane that tipped over on a hospital construction site. Within a couple of months of our investigation, we engaged with the family, which was based in Sydney. My senior investigators and I went up to Sydney. This was the first engagement that they'd had from anyone following the death of the father of the family. They didn't know what caused the accident, what happened, what their father was doing at the time or what the results were. We booked a conference room right near their home and we took up all our videos, our drone footage and our diagrams. We spent the whole day with them, going through what happened with the accident, what their father did, who we were looking at at that very early stage and what the scope of our investigation would be. Importantly, we gave them some parameters about the difficulties as a family that they were going to face—firstly, from a time perspective and then, ultimately, when things got to a prosecution stage, which they did, what the defendants were likely to say. We advised the family they would probably find it quite offensive in terms of the way they would talk about their father and the role of companies and things like that.
In the course of our 18-month investigation, we visited the family between three and four times. We went up to Sydney, booked the same conference centre and put that on for their convenience. At each stage we gave them a full and completely open and frank disclosure of where we were up to, where it was going, some of the constraints we had come across and some of the positives that we had made to the mobile crane industry back in Canberra as a preventive measure. We offered all the assistance and support in terms of the psychological support. We made suggestions about how they could get their own legal advice in terms of looking after the family from a financial perspective. Not only did we attended on those occasions but my senior inspectors also developed quite an open and robust telephone relationship with them in terms of any question that they had, any concerns or any rumours so that we could give them advice or tell them where to go for further advice.
The Queensland Government advised that it had sought to make improvements to the way in which it engaged with families, and that it was an 'evolutionary process' to get better. In an answer to a question on notice, the Queensland Office of Industrial Relation described the role and duties of its two investigation liaison and support officers (ILSOs) within the coronial unit that interact with families:
The ILSO is responsible for informing the family around the major milestones including initial scene examination and gathering of any physical evidence, progress reports to the coroner on the investigation, completion of the investigation and the report and submission for legal review by Prosecution Services, when a copy of the investigation report has been provided to the coroner, decisions whether to prosecute a duty holder or to conduct no further investigation, the outcome of any prosecution.
The ILSO can inform the family about the mechanics of the investigation including an explanation of the health and safety duties under the legislation; the consequences should the investigation reveal evidence that a duty holder has failed in that duty and that prosecution of any offences must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
ILSOs are not permitted to disclose evidentiary detail but can provide other information including: who the lead investigative agency is, the number of statements taken and still to be taken, and the seizure of plant and appropriate disclosure of action taken on site.
A number of families emphasised the importance of transparency and accountability from WHS regulators to help them deal with their grief and process.
For example, Mrs Kay Catanzariti, whose son Ben was killed in 2012, highlighted the need for open communication from regulators and specialised assistance for families, particularly in navigating the legal process:
Transparency is a key factor in life. You need to be told everything that's going on. The unknown is what's scary. With WorkSafe, I put my trust and faith in these regulators, but I have learnt so much over the last six years. Now I don't trust anyone. I don't believe anyone. People have failed me. People have promised. People need to follow through with what they have said. You need to be kept up to date with the inquiry on a regular basis—where it's going, what they're doing. You need someone to help you explain things. We have to keep a diary. We're told to keep a diary of who you talk to, how long, what it's relating to. You're not in any state of mind to do that, but this is the legal process that you're expected to do. As I said, a lot of us have never been in the legal system. You need someone specifically to guide you through the legal process. The coronial inquest alone is a nightmare.
Mr Jon-Paul Bradley, whose brother Gerard was killed in 2015, remarked on the additional difficulties he and his family faced in keeping informed of the investigation process because they were based in Ireland:
What would be ideal would be some sort of government link or to get some sort of resource page set up that gives us information about what we can do. Like you said, we've got a lot of international workers in Australia, especially a lot of Irish, and we do know that the other family involved—we've become very close to them—feel even more helpless because they are not as good on the internet and they are not as good with email. They feel like they're completely out of the loop and that they've been left behind. It just so happens that I can keep on top of this because my job means I'm on the computer and I can email people. But for someone who can't keep on top of this information, I feel for them even more so because they have no point of contact. All I have are emails going back and forth between myself and Work Safe.
Dr Matthews also commented on the need to open up lines of communication for families in order to assist in alleviating their grief:
I guess I would say: put yourself in their shoes. If you are not getting any information about the death of your loved one, if nobody is telling you any information, of course you are going to seek it. To have information means you don't lie in bed at night and imagine what happened – and that is soul destroying.
The Death at Work report found that most, if not all, jurisdictions had mechanisms in place to provide families with information and assistance to understand the formal processes following an industrial death. However, the study noted that not all families are reached via these mechanisms, and some families did not consider the mechanisms to be effective.
The committee is of the strong opinion that WHS regulators must reassess and improve their current practices to ensure that impacted families better understand the formal processes that follow an industrial death and are kept better informed as each process progresses.
The committee is encouraged to see some jurisdictions making improvements in the way they proactively engage with impacted families and urges all jurisdictions to continue to evolve and find 'best practice' methods for this engagement.
The committee understands that in the aftermath of an industrial death, bereaved families put their faith in the WHS regulators. This trust must be upheld and the committee considers that a more open and transparent flow of communication should assist in this.
The committee also acknowledges the evidence from families that indicated that they often feel voiceless and forgotten in the aftermath of the death of their loved one. The committee considers there may be value in establishing a forum, separate from the investigative and legal processes, for families to submit and publish impact statements which describe their grief and experiences in their own words.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia collaborate with WHS regulators in each jurisdiction to review, improve and formalise their practices to make the investigation processes as transparent as possible to impacted families, including by providing written guidance on the formal stages of the investigation, regular updates on the progress of an investigation, the reasons for decisions and the future direction of the investigation.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia collaborate with the governments and WHS regulators in each jurisdiction to provide for dedicated liaison officers to supply information to families about the process of investigations, prosecutions and other formal processes following an industrial death.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia look to establish a forum for families to submit and publish impact statements in order to give them a voice and outlet for their experiences in the processes that follow an industrial death.
Leaning from the experience of impacted families
The committee received evidence about the establishment of the Queensland Interim Consultative Committee for Work-related Fatalities and Serious Incidents (consultative committee). The consultative committee was established in August 2017 as part of a Queensland Government election commitment and has a legislative mandate to give advice to the Queensland Government about the information and support needs of persons affected by work-related fatalities and serious incidents.
The consultative committee is made up of individuals from impacted families. It meets quarterly and regularly consults with various stakeholders, including the Office of the State Coroner, the Queensland Ombudsman, the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations, WorkCover Queensland, and the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General.
Members of the consultative committee are not remunerated for the attendance at meetings; however, their travel expenses while undertaking official committee business are met by the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations. Consultative committee business can include meetings of the committee, attendance at meetings with ministers, regulators, departmental heads, public service officers or other agencies where the purpose is to advance the primary functions of the committee, and attendance at parliamentary committee hearings related to the primary function of the committee.
The consultative committee aims to:
provide a centralised, public voice regarding the support services required to assist injured workers, their families, and families affected by workplace death; and
achieve a consistent response and approach by all government agencies involved in investigating fatal and serious workplace accidents.
The consultative committee also undertakes activities to support affected families as they work their way through the various processes that arise after an industrial death. For example, it administers a closed Facebook group where affected families can share their experiences and give each other support. Additionally, its webpage collates resource documents which aim to assist family and friends in the aftermath of a death in a Queensland workplace.
In its submission to the inquiry the consultative committee outlined several major achievements since its establishment. For example, it identified gaps and prohibitive costs in accessing counselling following a workplace fatality or serious incident and drew attention to inconsistencies with accessing counselling through Medicare. As a result, an existing pilot program run by the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations to fund grief and trauma counselling following workplace fatalities has been extended to include social work support for individuals going through coronial inquests, as well as services following critical incidents.
The consultative committee also drew the Queensland Government's attention to the financial and emotional impact of participating in a coronial inquest and the need for assistance in preparing submissions and victim impact statements. In response, the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney General funded the Coronial Assistance Legal Service which provides free legal help for bereaved families going through the coronial process.
Mr Michael Garrels, interim chair of the consultative committee, whose son Jason was killed at work in 2012, emphasised the merits of such a group. He highlighted how the consultative committee gives impacted families the ability to network and submit preventative strategies to government:
It is due to our loved one’s death that we do become experts, no one anywhere, from any regulator or government agency will think about our loved one’s death from so many different angles as we do. In this way our unfortunate expertise can be an asset to any government that wishes to get it right. The ability to network with other affected families is soothing in a mental way that hopefully none of you reading this will ever have to understand.
Mr Paul Goldsbrough, Executive Director of WHS Engagement and Policy Services for the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations advised that the consultative committee had been of great assistance in improving how Queensland agencies engage with families:
One of the things that the [consultative] committee was instrumental with from my end was we suddenly realised that all departments were approaching workplace deaths and their engagement with families differently in Queensland. So, out of that advice, what we were able to do was come to some standardised materials and processes and so on, and that's been really exciting. We've now got a learning situation with the families in terms of how we do things.
The consultative committee argued that the support for impacted families in Queensland had been greatly improved by its establishment, and set out the way in which the improvements could be replicated in other states and territories:
The success and effectiveness of our committee at a state level demonstrates the need to duplicate the establishment of committees in legislation, consisting of people affected by workplace fatalities, illness and serious incidents in each state and territory of Australia. The chair and deputy chair from each state and territory committees would then fill paid positions and meet at a national level to advise the Federal Government on policy and legislation relevant to workplace incidents. This would be a ground-breaking move and would provide a national voice for those who are unable to speak for themselves and are all too quickly forgotten.
The committee considers the valuable contribution made by the Queensland Consultative Committee for Work-related Fatalities and Serious Incidents to be instructive for how other jurisdictions can work with impacted families to improve the system.
As Mr Michael Garrels, interim chair of the consultative committee stated, it is up to regulators to utilise the 'unfortunate expertise' garnered by the families through tragic circumstances outside of their control, to ensure that the support provided to impacted families is of the best possible quality.
As a result, the committee sees merit in other jurisdictions establishing parallel consultative committees with a similar mission as the one in Queensland.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with the WHS regulator in each jurisdiction to establish advisory committees designed to give advice and make recommendations to the relevant minister about the information and support needs of persons who have been affected directly or indirectly by a workplace incident that involves a death, serious injury or serious illness.
Impacted families drew the committee's attention to the ongoing challenges, both emotional and financial, they must face after their loved one is killed at work. Families spoke of the immense difficulties inherent in navigating complex formal processes that follow the death, in addition to dealing with overwhelming grief. Challenges mentioned included:
dealing with the large amounts of paperwork that follow a death;
understanding and accessing legal, insurance, superannuation and workers' compensation entitlements;
accessing and paying for legal representation through the coronial inquest and prosecution process; and
accessing and paying for grief and mental health support services in a timely manner.
The Death At Work report findings detailed the inadequate emotional and financial support available to grieving families:
Family members expressed concerns about the timing, availability, and outcomes of the emotional support provided by or funded by authorities. They valued the opportunity to receive counselling but those who were able to source and pay for professionals of their choice were more satisfied with the timing and outcomes of counselling than those funded by authorities or employers. Counselling incurred ongoing expense that some found difficult to meet. Reliance on financial assistance placed a barrier to access once the funded sessions were complete.
Voice of Industrial Death (VOID), an advocacy group for impacted families referenced the Death At Work report and emphasised the challenges for families that arise from the processes following a workplace fatality:
It is important the committee recognises that these families often experience procedural difficulties well removed from the normal peripheries of grief. That is, the various levels of systems and controls may work to impede the normal grieving process. We utilised the excellent study conducted by a team of respected researchers at the University of Sydney headed up by Associate Professor Dr Lynda Matthews.
The importance of independent support cannot be overstated here. Getting support to families at the earliest opportunity is paramount to helping them in being better prepared and clearer on their rights as well as providing emotional support.
The committee was told of the work being done in Victoria by Uniting GriefWork (GriefWork), which for the past 20 years has run a harm-reduction program providing grief support services to bereaved individuals following the death of a loved one in a work-related incident. GriefWork is partly funded by WorkSafe Victoria and the services to clients are free and available anywhere in Victoria. GriefWork currently has approximately 55 clients, with a breakdown of the cohort as follows:
approximately 75 per cent female (i.e. spouses , siblings, parents and some with young children);
approximately half of clients are in regional and rural areas;
referred primarily following deaths in the construction trades, farming, transport, and manufacturing sectors;
causes of death include fatal injury from construction trades work, farm work, work-related truck crashes, work-related suicide and death following fatal occupational diseases (asbestos exposure but also heart disease and industrial cancers);
acute grief may be experienced for up to six months; clients are usually in the program for two years, but some for more years depending on their needs and complications from intergenerational grief.
GriefWork put forward a summary of the core benefits the program provided clients, which included:
reduced isolation, particularly in rural and regional areas;
reduced risk of physical and mental harm;
connection and coordination with other services;
connection with peer support networks and social groups; and
assistance with accessing legal processes and death compensation processes.
Mrs Janine Brownlee, whose son Jack was killed in Victoria in 2018, detailed the mental health difficulties she and her family faced after Jack's death:
They say it gets better as it gets along, but it's actually getting worse. The longest Jack was ever away from us up until the incident was 10 days. As the days were getting on, you thought he was on a holiday, and then you start thinking: 'Come on, Jack, you should be coming home now. You should be coming home.' You're all numb. Then, after a couple of weeks, reality hits. By God, when it hits you and you know your loved ones aren't coming home, that's when your mental health issues come. You can't think. You hear a car horn and you just jump through the roof.
She also detailed the difficulties they had in accessing mental health support:
It took us eight weeks to get a work number so we could get a psychologist. It was eight weeks before we could get support. We tried to get private support but we're on a waiting list. It was eight weeks before I could get a psychologist that dealt in grief. And it was eight weeks before we got a number. It was UnitingCare that gave us support in our grief. We're so thankful that we have them. They do an amazing job. Without them, we'd be really lost. They are our biggest support.
Dr Cormie also spoke of the value of GriefWork, which the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) connected her with:
The people who came through to help all of us weren't from a workplace or government organisation. It was a union, of which neither of our men were members. Through them, it was GriefWork. If it hadn't been for them, God knows where we'd be at. And you just keep getting retraumatised by everything you have to do.
Ms Phillips-Campbell from GriefWork noted that grief was not an illness, but it could become one if appropriate support was not available early. She mentioned that GriefWork had observed that the families that find their services a year or more after the traumatic death tended to struggle more, with conditions such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide more prevalent among this group. GriefWork also advised the committee that accessing metal health assistance in rural and regional Victoria could be difficult.
Dr Cormie also highlighted this latter point:
Just in relation to a support person and accessing psychology, we're in a regional area and, although it is a well-resourced regional area, we have trouble accessing these services. I have a daughter who is screaming at night: 'I want my daddy. I want my daddy.' You think you're doing okay with coping with this and then all of a sudden you think: 'I can't do this anymore. I need some help. I don't know how to help her.' How long do you have to wait to see a child psychologist that knows anything about grief and trauma? Three months.
GriefWork advised that other jurisdictions in Australia do not offer similar services and argued that the Victorian program should be adopted nationally.
Guided by the insights shared by impacted families and the findings of the University of Sydney Death at Work report, the committee is recommending a number of measures designed to improve families' experience of the formal processes that follow an industrial death.
The committee is mindful that for impacted families navigating the myriad of formal processes following an industrial death in addition to dealing with their grief, the experience is overwhelming and can often lead to further trauma.
The committee hopes that if implemented, these measures will go some way to alleviating this distress.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with the WHS regulator in each jurisdiction to identify and formalise family outreach mechanisms to ensure that all impacted families receive information about the formal processes that follow an industrial death and the associated support that is available to them.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with the WHS regulator in each jurisdiction to create and maintain a centralised web portal which links to all relevant resources that impacted families may need in the aftermath of an industrial death.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with the WHS regulator in each jurisdiction to fund a support group or service that is experienced in working with people bereaved by a fatal workplace incident to support impacted families through all formal processes following an industrial death.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with the WHS regulator in each jurisdiction to make funding available for impacted families to access a range of mental health and counselling support options, including in rural and regional areas.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia collaborate with the WHS regulator in each jurisdiction to develop an initiative (similar to the Coronial Legal Assistance Service in operation in Queensland) to provide for pro bono legal assistance to families during coronial inquests.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with the WHS regulator in each jurisdiction to ensure that all staff with access to impacted families have adequate training in working with grieving family members.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia collaborate with each jurisdiction to review the adequacy of workers' compensation legislation with regard to all work related deaths.
Senator Gavin MarshallSenator Catryna Bilyk
Senator Deborah O'NeillSenator Mehreen Faruqi