Paramedic opens up on the consequences of workplace violence


It was just another routine call for paramedic Anita Stirling until her patient turned violent and attacked her. The emotional trauma, and the difficulties of claiming workplace insurance, was something she wasn't prepared for.

Video above: Insight explores what happens after someone has been hurt at work. What are the effects on the injured worker, both physically and mentally? Hurt at Work, Tuesday, April 27 at 8:30pm.

Each year in Australia, hundreds of thousands of people deal with workplace injuries.

Paramedics and other first responders are among the most vulnerable, like Anita Stirling from Shepparton in rural Victoria, who’s been in the job for over 12 years.

Last year, in 2020, she was responding to a routine triple zero call in the early hours of the morning when the patient she was treating became aggressive and attacked her.

“I would never have imagined in my day-to-day job that I would get attacked," Anita told Insight host, Kumi Taguchi.

Anita was taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder, leaving her unable to work for three months.

But, as it does for many, the effects went beyond being unable to work.

As a mum of three young kids, Anita found herself struggling to keep up with her usual home life.
“I felt that I had no control over anything at all,” she said.

“I couldn't drive, I couldn't do simple mum tasks at home such as fold washing or wash the children's hair or prepare a meal and I just felt useless."

Anita sustained a shoulder injury as a result of being attacked.

She was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which she says would become her biggest hurdle when it came to getting back to her job.

“I had a huge amount of fear. I didn't want to walk down the street in case I ran into that bloke.”

In Australia, injured workers can claim compensation through state-based insurance schemes for physical and psychological injuries.

While most claims are resolved and workers eventually return to work, there are cases where injured workers suffer further distress because of their experiences throughout this process.

“You're a number, you're not a person...When you email them, you don't put your name in the subject line, you put your number that you've been given and you become a statistic," Anita said of her “awful” compensation claim experience.

“I've had three different caseworkers in nine months and every one of them has had a different approach, different ideas, have said they're going to do something and then it hasn't happened.”

Occupational physician, Dr Mary Wyatt, assesses injured workers and said case managers are a crucial factor in their successful recovery, but not all schemes provide adequate support.

“How that case manager operates is not determined by that case manager, it's determined by the system they're operating within.”

I'm not letting someone ruin my career for five seconds of anger.

Dr Wyatt said different systems expect vastly different workloads from case managers.

“It might be 30, that's an hour a week each case, but if you're managing 100 cases, that's quite different.”

Rebecca Hodges is the Managing Director of People and Culture at Ambulance Victoria. Over the past five years, the organisation has transitioned to what she described as, “a person-centred care model based on evidence and research in psychological care and wellbeing".

“We invest heavily in the wellbeing services for our staff.

“Our psychologists, who are trained in PTSD techniques and clinical care, we get in early with our paramedics, provide care so as to be able to help them so they don't end up in the WorkCover system.”

Despite the severity of her physical and psychological injuries, Anita considers herself fortunate to have had a supportive employer and wants to eventually return to full duties.

“I love my job, I love what I do, I'm good at what I do and I really want to do it again,” she said. “I'm not letting someone ruin my career for five seconds of anger.”