Alanah Eriksen

Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's property reporter, and assistant chief reporter.

ACC pays out $2m to govt workers

Corrections is not able to prevent all assaults on staff in prisons. Photo / Dean Purcell
Corrections is not able to prevent all assaults on staff in prisons. Photo / Dean Purcell

More than $2 million was paid out to workers in government departments last year - with dangerous prisoners and dysfunctional families to blame for a number of claims.

The Department of Corrections tops a list of accident compensation claims in the public sector, with 611 made and $1.4 million paid out to civil servants recovering from injury or stress.

It was more than three times the amount of the next two departments on the list - the Ministry of Social Development, which paid out $293,730 to 264 workers, and the Inland Revenue Department, which paid $79,510 to 84 staff.

The information, released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, includes all 31 government departments and covers claims made in the year to June 30.

Corrections' claims were more than four times the amount than six years ago, when $398,000 was paid.

But it was slightly down on the previous year when $1.5 million was paid out to 617 people.

Corrections general manager of human resources Vince Arbuckle said the department's staff dealt with 19,000 convicted criminals that passed through the country's 18 prisons each year, as well as 69,000 people in the community.

"Many of the people we manage present particular challenges as they are incarcerated or on a sentence due to criminal or alleged criminal acts ... Despite the efforts we make to ensure risks are mitigated, there will be some occasion where assaults occur and, on occasion, staff sustain injuries.

"Despite our sincerest intentions, we cannot prevent all assaults, and no jurisdiction in the world has achieved this."

Most of the injuries were from falls, slips, trips and stumbles, he said.

Initiatives to improve the safety of staff included the introduction of pepper spray to all prison sites, increased tactical training and access to other protective equipment such as stab-resistant vests and spit hoods to shield staff from blood and saliva.

Ministry of Social Development spokesman Marc Warner said many of its staff were in front-line positions, such as roles in eight youth justice or care and protection facilities and 13 supervised group homes, all of which provide rehabilitation services for children and young people.

MSD requested staff report all pain and discomfort in the workplace and the majority of claims were for slips and sprains, he said.

The department had seen a 22 per cent reduction in claims since last year.

The IRD, where most workers are office-based, also saw a reduction of claims, down from 102 in 2011 to 84.

A spokesman said: "Our work is largely done at desks and on computers and this means that people can sometimes twist or pull muscles when moving suddenly after long periods of sitting, called body stressing.

"The most common ACC claims are for body stressing, manual handling - people hurting themselves while lifting heavy objects - and slips, trips and falls. The education we have in place targets these specific issues."

- NZ Herald

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