Occupational injuries and illnesses are not limited to physical effects, the Taiwan Occupational Safety and Health Link (TOSHL) said yesterday, calling on the government to also recognize psychological traumas that can take a serious toll.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Insurance show that a total of 62,544 people received occupational injury benefit payments from the labor insurance system last year, which was about 6.4 percent of all policyholders that year.
“And this is only the official record, which does not include all those employers who have failed to have their employees covered by the insurance,” TOSHL executive director Huang Yi-ling (黃怡翎) said.
“Occupational incidents can cause both physical injury and psychological trauma, but our current system is poor in occupational injury prevention, compensation and return-to-work rehabilitation,” said organization chairwoman Cheng Ya-wen (鄭雅文), who is also a National Taiwan University associate professor in the Institute of Health Policy and Management.
“It is a labor-unfriendly, resource-deprived system, characterized by a low recognition rate and sometimes with ongoing lawsuits against the employer,” meaning workers are the ones taking the hit, she said.
A 2009 study by National Taiwan University professor of occupational medicine and industrial hygiene Leon Yue-liang Kuo (郭育良), cited by the group, found that 20 percent of the 1,424 workers surveyed with occupational injuries had results indicating the presence of psychological problems and 7.5 percent had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder.
Another study by Kuo found that 45.6 percent of the workers who had suffered occupational injuries could not return to work within three months and 31.3 percent could not do so within a year.
“There are also people who cannot return to work at all,” Taiwan Association of Psycho-social Rehabilitation secretary-general Eva Teng (滕西華) said. “Studies also show that the link between unemployment and suicide is growing stronger.”
She said that there has yet to be a budget allocated for employee mental health.
“With psychological consulting costing an average of NT$1,200 per hour, unemployed or low-income workers who suffer occupational injuries can rarely afford it.”
However, it is not just about the costs. Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) cautioned the government against dispensing money without instituting additional support measures.
“What is missing is an institutional system. With a complete system in place, [both financial and psychological] pressure will ease,” he said.
The group said Council of Labor Affairs officials have said that a single, independent law on the insurance and compensation for occupational injuries would be proposed next year.
“For now we have related regulations separately stated in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), Labor Insurance Act (勞工保險條例) and the Protection of Workers Incurring Occupational Accidents Act (職業災害勞工保護法). They contain conditions that usually end up upsetting already distressed workers,” Huang said.