We engaged Professor Tim Driscoll, an independent consultant in epidemiology, occupational health and public health, to undertake a review of the specified diseases and employment instrument declared for the purpose of the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 (Seafarers Act). The new Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation (Specified Diseases and Employment) Instrument 2021, made on 25 March 2021, was informed by recommendations in Professor Tim Driscoll’s final report on the review and stakeholder consultation.
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The Seacare scheme is established under the Seafarers Act and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993. It provides work health and safety, workers' compensation and rehabilitation arrangements for approximately 3,885 employees in the maritime industry.
Most jurisdictions in Australia have a 'deemed diseases list' as part of their workers' compensation system. The deemed diseases list for the Seacare scheme lists diseases that are deemed to be work‑related and, in doing so, reverses the onus of proof. That is, if a worker has a listed disease and was subject to the relevant exposure in the course of their work, it is assumed that they developed the disease because of the exposure (unless there is strong evidence to the contrary).
Diseases that are not included on the 'deemed diseases list' can still be the subject of a workers' compensation claim through the normal approach. However, the onus of proof reversal would not apply. The 'deemed diseases list' approach simplifies relevant claims on the assumption that there is a high likelihood that the disease has arisen as a result of work‑related exposures.
The Notice of Declarations and Specifications 1993 (the Seafarers Notice), which contained the previous deemed diseases list for the Seacare scheme, had not been relevantly updated since it was made. It did not include some diseases for which there is strong contemporaneous evidence of a causal link to work‑related exposures.
Terms of reference for the review
The purpose of the review was to examine a proposed replacement specified diseases and employment instrument (the proposed instrument) to ensure it was appropriate for the Seacare scheme. The proposed instrument was the same as the equivalent instrument made under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, with the exception that it was to be made under the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992. We consulted with stakeholders and engaged an epidemiologist to consider scientific and any other relevant evidence, to advise on the following questions outlined in the review's terms of reference:
- Whether any additional occupational diseases be included for the Seacare scheme?
- If an occupational disease should be included, what employment-related causative factors and minimum employment period (if applicable) should apply in relation to that disease?
- Whether any minimum employment period(s) should be amended for the Seacare scheme?
- If the minimum employment period for a particular disease should be amended from the SRC Act Instrument for the Seacare scheme, what minimum employment period should apply in relation to that disease?
Stakeholders were invited to make submissions over the period 10 September 2020 to 30 October 2020. We have published these submissions with permission.
Professor Tim Driscoll presented us with the review’s final report in March 2021.
The review made the following recommendations for inclusion in the proposed instrument:
- add malaria (no minimum employment period)
- add 4 additional cancer-exposure pairs:
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pentachlorophenol (2 years minimum employment period)
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lindane (2 years minimum employment period)
- cholangiocarcinoma and 1,2-dichloropropane (5 year minimum employment period)
- ocular melanoma and welding ultraviolet light (5 year minimum employment period)
- reduce the minimum employment period for mesothelioma and asbestos from 1 year to 3 months.
The recommended changes were reflected in the new proposed instrument. This was circulated to key stakeholders for comment in March 2021.
On 25 March 2021, the Minister for Industrial Relations made the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation (Specified Diseases and Employment) Instrument 2021, which reflects the changes recommended in Professor Driscoll’s report.