If you suffer a back injury at your workplace, it is not unlikely that you are entitled to workers compensation.
Like other workplace injuries, back or spinal injuries are not uncommon — the ABS reported that in the 2021-2022 financial year, 24% of the 497,300 of work-related injuries arose out as a result of ‘[l]ifting, pushing, pulling, or bending’.
However, unlike other workplace injuries, back injuries are especially complex to understand and often leave sufferers claiming much less in workers compensation payments than they in fact can.
This article covers aspects of the NSW workers compensation scheme relevant to you if you have sustained a back injury at work, and other information about work-related back injuries that might help you decide what to do next regarding your injury. Read on for an overview of:
- Types of workers compensation payouts available for back injuries;
- The most common types of back injuries sustained at work;
- Common causes of back injuries;
- How you can claim from permanent impairment; and
- Time limits for submitting workers compensation and common law claims.
What compensation can I claim if I injured my back at work?
Workers’ compensation for a back injury is comprised of several kinds of payments: regular weekly payments, medical expenses payments, a permanent impairment payout, and a work injury damages payout.
Weekly payments payout for back injuries
Workers’ compensation in NSW includes regular weekly payments that compensate you for your loss of income while you are absent from work after your injury.
The amount you receive is calculated according to your pre-injury average weekly earnings, your work capacity (how many days and hours you are able to work during your recovery), and the duration of your recovery.
If you return to work part-time or in a different pay-grade, your payments will cover approximately the difference between your current earnings and the amount you were earning before your back injury.
For more information on weekly compensation payments, make sure to consult our Guide to Weekly Payments for Workers Compensation.
Medical Expenses payout for back injuries
Alongside regular weekly payments, recipients of workers’ compensation usually also receive payments to cover medical expenses and other bills associated with recovery.
These payments will cover the costs of your medical expenses, for example, hospital bills (including the costs of ambulances, MRIs and x-rays), medication, rehabilitation services (such as physiotherapy and exercise physiology) and some necessary travel expenses.
You can receive up to $10,000 in total for medical expenses during the provisional liability period. If you reach this amount in payments during the provisional period, then you must wait for your claim to be determined before receiving further coverage of your medical expenses.
Permanent Impairment Payout
If you suffer from permanent impairment as a result of your back injury, e.g. in the form of paraplegia or tetraplegia as a result of spinal damage or spinal surgery, you may be entitled to receive an additional lump sum compensation payment.
The NSW workers compensation scheme enables injured workers who suffer from more than a 10% degree of permanent impairment and has reached maximum medical improvement to claim a lump sum payment via a permanent impairment claim.
You can apply for a permanent impairment payout either at the same time as, or after, submitting your main workers compensation claim.
To qualify for this lump sum payment, you will need an independent medical assessment from a SIRA-approved permanent impairment assessor to assess your whole person impairment rating to validate your eligibility.
Work injury Damages payout
If you are more than 15% permanently impaired as a result of your back injury, and you believe your back injury was the result of your employer’s negligence, you may also be entitled to a work injury damages payout.
Receiving this payout involves suing your employer for their workplace negligence, i.e. proving that your employer is at fault for your injury.
The process for suing your employer for work injury damages (also known as a ‘common law claim’) differs in significant ways from the process for submitting a claim for the kinds of compensation mentioned above. If you are considering submitting a common law claim, make sure to visit our guide Work Injury Damage: Injured due to Employer Negligence.
What’s the average payout for back injuries sustained at work?
The amount in payouts you can receive for back injuries are dependent on a variety of factors. Workers with back injuries are usually in such a diverse array of situations that the average payout for back injuries is very hard to locate.
While there is scant data on the average payout, weekly payments are usually indexed to the average salaries or wages of your paygrade, and it is noted that the maximum weekly payout is currently set at $2,423.60 until 31 March 2024.
Back injuries that cause permanent impairment also vary greatly in severity, so average lump sum payments for permanent impairment are also hard to define. The table below however shows the payment ranges and maximum amounts you can receive for particular degrees of permanent impairment.
|Degree of Permanent Impairment||Permanent Impairment Payout|
|0 – 10%||$0|
|11% – 30%||$27,790 – $96,760|
|31% – 50%||$102,690 – $216,310|
|51% – 55%||$299,300|
|56% – 60%||$382,170|
|61% – 65%||$465,040|
|66% – 70%||$547,910|
|71% – 74%||$630,770|
|75% – 100%||$713,660|
If you wish to gain a better understanding of the calculation of maximum payout amounts as well as SIRA’s interpretation of income pricing for weekly payments, you can consult SIRA’s Workers Compensation Benefits Guide October 2023, or visit our Workers Compensation Payout Guide NSW.
Example: $67,620 Settlement for spinal fusion surgery under workers compensation
To demonstrate the complexity of finding the average payout amount for a back injury and the specificity of payments to particular kinds of back injuries, consider the example from SIRA of someone who suffered a work-related back injury resulting in the need for a (L4/5) disc replacement and additional level (L5/S1) fusion surgery.
As a result of the fusion, this puts the worker in a Lumbar DRE category IV which results in a WPI range of 20% – 23%. An additional 1% WPI is added to take into account the daily living impact of the surgery.
Taking into consideration Table 4.2 (Page 29) there is also an additional 1% increase in WPI for the second-level nature of the surgery. After combining the total DRE Category with the additional 1% WPI for daily living impact (20% WPI) with the additional 1% from second-level nature surgery, we get a total of 22% WPI.
According to Table 37 of the Workers compensation benefits guide – October 2023, an injury causing 22% permanent impairment leads to a payout of $67,720 (as of July 2023 to June 2024).
What are the most common back injuries in the workplace?
The most common workplace back injury is a sprain or soft-tissue injury in which a ligament or tendon (two kinds of connecting tissues) of the spine tears. Any number of vigorous or miscalculated movements at work, especially those resulting from overuse can lead to this injury.
A back strain at work may also cause the interior of a vertebrae disk to rupture, and even slip through, the softer shock-absorbing layers above and below each disk in the spine. Usually (in more than 80% of cases), the herniated disk is located in the lower back.
This kind of back injury usually occurs in jobs involving lifting or maneuvering heavy objects.
Cracking or breaking a bone in your vertebrae usually results from the application of excessive force. Treatments for back fractures vary greatly depending on the seriousness of the fracture, but sometimes will involve back surgery.
The treatment for vertebrae fractures, in other words, is usually very costly and may involve addressing additional costly complications such as nerve damage.
Spinal cord injuries involve damage to the bundle of nerve cells running down your spine. This type of nerve damage usually occurs in tandem with damage to other physical structures of vertebrae that support the spinal cord.
You can sustain a spinal cord injury as a result of a fall or collision, or other kinds of impact or pressure on the cord. Herniated disc injuries for instance commonly lead to spinal dysfunctions.
Sciatica usually involves a sensation of pain running from the lower back, to the buttocks and along the legs. The condition involves the pinching, compression, or inflammation of the nerve cells related to those parts of the body (sciatic nerves).
You may endure an event at work that triggers sciatica for the first time, or you may have pre-existing sciatica that worsens as a result of your work. In both cases, the pain you suffer is a kind of back injury that could entitle you to workers compensation.
Common Causes of Back Injuries at Work
Back injuries are caused by any number of actions commonly performed as a part of your work.
Work involving more strenuous physical labour commonly triggers a back injury as a result of:
- Pushing and pulling with excessive force
- Lifting and carrying heavy loads
- Handling equipment or products with awkward posture
- Repetitive and/or strenuous movement, including stretching, twisting and reaching
- Physically handling equipment and products when you are overworked or fatigued
- Driving long distances or over uneven ground
- Trips and falls
It is also not uncommon to sustain a back injury as a desk worker due to:
- Poor posture or seating arrangements (ergonomics)
- Poor orientation to screens
- Extended periods of sitting or remaining in any posture
Back pain at work can also develop as a result of a previous episode of back problems. The back pain you develop in this circumstance still counts in many instances as a back injury sustained as a result of your work.
I suffered a back injury at work; how can I make a back injury claim?
You submit a claim for workers compensation for a back injury in the same way that you would for any other workplace injury.
In summary, you must:
- Gather evidence about your injury;
- Notify your employer about your injury immediately;
- Notify the insurer about your injury;
- Retrieve your Workers Compensation claim number;
- Seek medical treatment from your doctor;
- Obtain a ‘certificate of capacity’ from your doctor; and
- Submit a workers compensation claim form.
For a more detailed overview of the claim submission process, make sure you visit our guide on how to lodge a workers’ compensation claim in NSW.
The claim submission process can be complex and daunting. It is not uncommon and highly advisable to seel legal advice or assistance from experienced workers’ compensation lawyers with submitting your claim.
Making a permanent impairment claim for back injuries
If you sustained a severe back injury at work, then it is not unlikely that you have suffered lasting or irreversible damage to your body as a result of your injury.
All too often, workers with seriously injured backs assume that they are only entitled to weekly compensation payouts and coverage of medical expenses. However, if you suffer permanent impairment due to a work injury, you are in fact entitled to an additional lump sum payment to compensate you for the permanent damage the injury has caused you.
To make a claim for a permanent impairment payout, you can either:
- Apply for a lump sum payment along with your original claim for weekly payments and medical expenses; or
- Apply for a lump sum payment separately, after you have submitted your original claim for weekly payments and medical expenses — you should use SIRA’s Permanent Impairment Claim form to do so.
As a part of your application, you will need to consult a trained assessor of permanent impairment who will determine whether you suffered permanent damage as a result of your injury, and the degree of permanent damage you have suffered. Usually, you will receive a lump sum payment if the assessor determines that you are more than 10% permanently impaired (see above for more information).
For a more detailed outline of the criteria for permanent impairment and how lump sum payments for permanent injuries are calculated, consult our Whole Person Impairment Guide.
What is the time limit for a back injury workers compensation claim?
The time limit for submitting a workers compensation claim for a back injury is the same as for other workplace injuries: 6 months from the date of first the occurrence of the back injury or the onset of back injury symptoms.
If you miss this deadline, you have three years to submit a claim if you can show reasonable cause for delay.
If you do not feel prepared to submit a claim, you should always notify your employer and your insurer as soon as you can about your injury after it first occurs to begin receiving provisional liability payments.
For common law claims, i.e. claims for work injury damages, you have three years from the occurrence of your back injury or the onset of back injury symptoms to begin proceedings against your employer.
Speak to an expert Back Injury Workers Comp Lawyer today
Claiming compensation for a workplace back injury can be daunting — communicating to your insurer about the seriousness of your injury and understanding the full scope of your entitlement can become especially challenging when it comes to such a complex injury.
Often, workers suffering from back injuries are entitled to more in compensation than they assume and eventually receive. If you have suffered a workplace back injury, it is therefore crucial to gain a more comprehensive perspective on your compensation rights.
Alliance Compensation & Litigation Lawyers is experienced in advising as well as assisting back injury claimants with obtaining the maximum amount in payouts and benefits available to them with respect to their back injuries.
If you wish to ensure you receive your full workers compensation entitlements, we invite you to book a no obligations consultation with us.
To learn more about Workers Compensation in NSW, make sure you read our “Complete Guide to Workers Compensation in NSW“
To understand more about your Super while on Workers Compensation, head over to our article “Do workers compensation payments include superannuation?“