There is currently a public electronic petition circulating calling for the overhaul of ACC legislation to recognise mental health issues resulting from repeated and cumulative exposures to trauma.
Firefighters are subjected to repeated and frequent exposure to trauma through their traditional fire and incident response, and also through medical response to calls where the patient is not breathing (cardiac, suicide, overdose, SIDS, drowning etc). There is international research that demonstrates the incidence of depression, anxieties and Post Traumatic injury for firefighters and other first responders. For some their mental health may be affected by one or two particular events, for others it is a result of responding to the injured, critical ill, dead and dying on a regular basis and with the patient’s distraught family in attendance.
Currently ACC legislation does recognise work-related mental health issues but the relevant section in the legislation refers to the mental injury resulting from a single event. There are decisions where Judges have determined Parliament would not have intended to exclude those that are harmed due to repeated exposure to traumatic events and has accepted cases on those grounds, but the legislation does require amendment.
The NZPFU is represented on a coalition of legal practitioners health providers, lawyers, ACC consumers, academics, and unions campaigning to maintain and improve ACC and keep it publicly owned, and this is an issue that has been raised through that Coalition to the Minister as part of a suite of reform. We support the push to amend the legislation so that there is no doubt that the mental injury can be a result of repeated exposures and to remove the requirement for the employee to pinpoint one specific incident.
Firefighters’ occupational mental illness has been recognised in presumptive legislation in the USA, Canada and Australia with some legislation recognising other first responders including police and ambulance officers and medical professionals.