Injured worker suffers lifetime PTSD after investigating gruesome heavy machinery accidents

PTSD_Trauma

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