Brave truckie fights for fairer workers compensation deal
AT JUST 44, former truckie Chris Jorgensen already has two healthy grandsons, one age four and the other just 19 months.
But sadly, both only know their Pa as having "sore legs", and instead of running around the yard playing with them, he's forced to sit back and watch the boys from the sidelines, with the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.
Tragically, before either of Chris's grandkids were born, the father-of-three was involved in a horrific accident in February, 2014, that almost claimed his life.
While driving a fully-loaded cabover tipper with dog trailer for long-time employer Horsham Concrete in Horsham, Victoria, the right-hand steer tyre exploded after Chris hit a small divot.
At almost 100km/h and the road veering left at the time, all Chris could do was try and hang on as the truck left the road.
After crashing through several trees, a fence and water main, the truck finally came to rest in the Antwerp Cemetery with Chris pinned in the wreck for nearly two hours.
Chris had broken almost every bone from the waist down, and his wrist.
Airlifted to Melbourne Hospital, he spent the first 11 days in ICU in and out of surgery, undergoing numerous blood transfusions, and fighting to keep his legs. Early on, wife Nicole was asked to sign the consent forms for amputation.
After four months of rehab, learning to cope with the pain and how to walk again with 38 screws and pins throughout his ravaged body, brave Chris eventually returned home.
But almost six years after the accident that turned his life upside down, Chris is still fighting a battle he said no families in their situation should have to endure - the appalling treatment by the legal and WorkCover system of professional drivers who suffer permanent incapacitation.
Chris and wife Nicole decided to share their heartbreaking story with Big Rigs - and make a formal submission to the Senate Inquiry on the road transport industry along the same lines - as a warning to other drivers and their families.
"We want the truck drivers and their families looked after," said Nicole.
"You've got these guys out there busting their asses, spending time away from their families and at the of the day, when things go pear-shaped, it's those families who then have to step up and cop the burden of what goes wrong.
"Something's got to give, particularly when you've done nothing wrong. I guess that's the part that wears us down."
WorkCover only adds to stress
Like many others in the industry, Chris and Nicole were under the mistaken believe that in the event of an accident at work, the Transport Accident Commission would step in and take all the ensuing financial and recovery headaches away.
But almost from the moment Nicole arrived at Chris's side in hospital from hometown Horsham, 300km north-west of Melbourne, things started to unravel.
Because the accident happened while Chris was working, his case fell under the jurisdiction of Victoria's workers' compensation schemed called WorkCover.
Instead of all Nicole's associated costs being covered, she had to fork out for accommodation, parking and meals, and the like, all from her own pocket.
Against his doctor's wishes, Chris did try to go back to his old job a while in 2015, but it was just too hard on his body.
Chris still gets 80% of a regular 38-hour working week salary through WorkCover, but he said it's a constant fight for other help from one of the scheme's claims agents, Allianz.
"WorkCover has done a great deal to add to the stress of life post-accident," writes Chris in his formal submission to the senate inquiry.
"From taking weeks to respond to calls or emails, to taking months to supply medical needs. For example, while in rehab the OT suggested silicon sheeting and pressure stockings to help with the extensive scaring on my legs. I was told that they would be of great benefit if used within the first six months of my recovery.
"The OT put in a request to WorkCover, hounded them for weeks, the pressure stocking was approved in mid-June 2014, almost four months post-accident, the silicon sheeting wasn't approved and delivered until after we had returned home, so approximately six months post-accident, which meant I had very little, if any, benefit from these items.
"At one point my wife tried to lodge a complaint against our WorkCover insurer, and the WorkCover complaint line took her straight to the insurer to lodge the complaint.
"Bit of a joke really, because you make the complaint about them, to them, nothing changes, because no one is monitoring them, other than each time my wife now calls them she is told that her call is being recorded for training purposes."
Chris and Nicole said that if it wasn't for the unflinching support of former boss Pauline Schmidt from Horsham Concrete, their struggle for help would be even harder.
"Pauline is a demon, a little pocket rocket," said Nicole. "If she can find funding from WorkSafe she'll find it."
Governments botch schemes
Mark Brown, manager at TBI Insurance Services, said there are many faults with the workers compensation schemes in the states where they have been taken over by the state governments after a succession of politicians making statements like "we will make your insurance premiums cheaper".
"The watering down of workers compensation by political parties to "make your insurance cheaper" has resulted in the basic purpose of workers compensation being lost," said Mr Brown.
"The politicians have lost sight of the fact that all workers compensation policies are statutory, as they are there to protect the employee. Workers compensation is not there to protect the employer, who is the one paying the premium.
"The workers compensation schemes should be left to the insurance industry professionals to manage and not be interfered with by various governments."
Meanwhile, with all legal avenues for compensation also exhausted - no party involved was found to be at fault - Chris and Nicole struggle on as best they can.
Nicole's voice cracks with emotion as she recounts the financial strain they're now under. The pay twice the usual mortgage rate on their new home because the banks ran a mile when they saw Chris's WorkCover income.
The former nurse bridges the gaps as a carer for the local council, darting home between clients to check on Chris.
There are more hurdles ahead for the couple. Chris still wears braces and orthotics on both feet, and endures aches in his knees, ankles and hips, all day, every day.
His hips and knees will need to be replaced, possibly also his ankles, but doctors are holding out on those operations for as long as they can.
So, who does Chris turn to if he needs to talk to someone about his struggle?
That's a Catch 22, said Nicole, and another example of why the system isn't working.
"He could pick up the phone and talk to his counsellor at Allianz; they've offered that to him.
"But then they'd come back to him and say, 'right, your incapacity to work isn't due to your injuries, it's because of anxiety and depression, therefore you're no longer eligible for WorkCover.
"How do you get that help without tipping off WorkCover that you might be struggling a bit? You've got to be playing games all the time, and it's so wrong."
• The Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass released a scathing report on WorkCover, saying that the scheme has been failing long-term injured workers in "downright immoral and unethical" circumstances. She told ABC Radio that she found WorkSafe agents continuing to make unreasonable decisions, in some cases for financial incentives, leaving injured workers without compensation.