Correctional Services NSW (CSNSW) plays a vital role in maintaining public safety and security. However, the inherent nature of working in correctional facilities exposes staff to a unique set of risks that can lead to multiple injuries, including both physical and psychological injuries that can cause significant person impairment and impact their well-being. 

Given these unique risks, it’s crucial to understand the prevalence of work-related injuries among NSW prison staff. Identifying the key contributing factors within these facilities is vital to developing and implementing effective support and prevention strategies to ensure the well-being of staff members.

Work Injuries in Corrective Services NSW Prisons

The potential for physical injuries and psychological distress within correctional environments is very high. Data suggests a concerning trend of physical injuries sustained in the workplace among Corrective Services NSW prison officers. This raises significant concerns about the justice system’s ability to protect its workforce. 

Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive analysis of reporting practices, risk factors within the workplace, and the availability of effective treatment options for both physical and psychological injuries. Understanding the true prevalence of these injuries through accurate claim data is crucial for developing targeted support and prevention strategies to ensure the well-being of officers and uphold the principles of justice within the correctional system.

A 2020 media release by the Public Service Association (PSA) highlighted that between July 2019 and April 2020, a significant number of prison officers were receiving workers’ compensation: 

  • 442 for physical injuries
  • 99 for psychological injuries. 

These figures are for 2020, but Jason Charlton, the PSA chairperson from the Prison Officers Vocational Branch, said in May 2024 that while recent data was unavailable, he believed the figures were now much higher for psychological injury. While changes to the NSW workers’ compensation scheme mean prison officers with short-term injuries are satisfactory – there is no income or medical support for serious, long-term injuries to correctional service workers. Workers’ compensation stops after two and a half years, and medical payments are capped. 

Factors Contributing to Physical Injuries to Prison Staff 

The job’s physical demands in Corrective Services can lead to various injuries. Here’s a breakdown of some key contributors to injuries to prison officers:

  • Assaults and Violence

Due to the inherent unpredictability of inmates, the constant threat of altercations, and the inherent risk of occupational violence, prison officers, similar to police officers, face a high likelihood of sustaining severe personal injuries during restraints, interventions, or spontaneous attacks. These injuries can be both psychological and physical.

  • Manual Handling

Transporting inmates, managing heavy equipment, and restraining struggling individuals all contribute to musculoskeletal injuries like back pain, strains, sprains, and even fractures and head injuries.

  • Slips, Trips, and Falls

Uneven surfaces, poorly lit corridors, and the fast-paced nature of prison environments can lead to slips, trips, and falls, causing bone fractures and other physical injuries.

Psychological Work Injuries Toll on Prison Staff

The psychological toll on correctional officers is significant. Witnessing violence, self-harm, and mental health crises among inmates can lead to secondary traumatic stress, a serious psychological condition. 

Ethical dilemmas, like balancing safety with inmate care, can cause moral injury and emotional distress. Chronic stress, anxiety, and burnout are further fueled by the pressure to maintain order in a volatile environment, shift work, and understaffing. Addressing this through a comprehensive review, as highlighted in a recent draft report, is crucial. 

Corrective services must investigate contributing factors like inadequate training and understaffing and prioritise officer well-being through improved support, access to appropriate care, and workers’ compensation for both physical and psychological personal injuries, similar to the support offered to police officers.

The Impact of Work Injuries on Correctional Staff

Work injuries in the NSW Corrective Services industry can have a ripple effect, impacting the individual and the broader system. Physical and psychological injuries can affect staff morale, job satisfaction, and overall well-being, leading to the following outcomes.

  • Increased Absenteeism

Injuries often lead to time off work, placing strain on understaffed facilities and creating a vicious cycle.

  • Financial Burdens

Medical expenses and potential income loss due to physical injuries and also psychological injuries can significantly burden staff and their families.

  • Operational Challenges

Staff injuries can disrupt operations within correctional facilities, hindering smooth running and potentially compromising safety.

Support and Prevention Strategies

There’s an urgent need for a multi-pronged approach to tackle work injuries in the NSW Correctional Services workplaces. The PSA’s call for recognising CSNSW staff as frontline workers for workers’ compensation purposes would ensure they receive adequate income and medical support in case of long-term, serious injuries. Sufficient staffing is also vital for ensuring prison officer safety, reducing stress levels and addressing understaffing issues, which can significantly improve the working environment. 

Other strategies to improve the health of Correctional Services officers include:

  • Mental Health and Wellbeing Programs 

Investing in programs that address the psychological impact of the job is crucial. Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) training, available mental health services, and peer support programs can significantly improve staff well-being. Such programs can help protect officers from physical injury or psychological conditions.

  • Violence Prevention and De-escalation Training 

Equipping staff with robust occupational violence prevention and de-escalation techniques can minimise the risk of physical altercations and assaults.

  • Ergonomic Assessments and Safe Work Practices 

Conducting regular ergonomic assessments of workstations and implementing safe work practices for manual handling tasks can help prevent musculoskeletal injuries.

A Case Study on Psychological Injury to a Prison Officer

In a recent case study, a former prison officer says his Complicated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) was assessed at seven per cent, yet on bad days, he can’t even leave the house or remember to eat, let alone socialise or work. He says the impact also ripples out to colleagues because “when your brain is muddled, they can’t understand you, and the impact is wider than the injured worker”. 

The impact extends to partners, children, and the whole family. He believes his assessment should be more than 30 per cent because he is 30 per cent less of a person than he was before his psychological work injury, yet it is not reflected in the assessment process. 

The Critical Role of Corrective Services NSW Employees

Prison officers play a critical role in society, but they face unique risks that can lead to physical injuries and psychological injuries. Recognising the prevalence of these injuries and implementing adequate support and prevention strategies is crucial. Improved workers’ compensation, robust mental health programs, violence prevention training, safe work practices, and addressing understaffing are all essential steps towards creating a safer and healthier work environment for prison officers. 

Injured at Work as a Prison Officer? Reach Out

At PK Simpson, we have helped NSW Corrective Services prison officers receive the maximum compensation they deserve for physical injuries and psychological injuries. If you are an employee of the Corrective Services in NSW and have suffered psychological injuries or a physical injury at work, contact PK Simpson’s personal injury and compensation lawyers as soon as possible.

 Our compensation lawyers will gather witness details, essential information, photographs, and other necessary documents and evidence on your behalf. This support process may include engaging experts, reviewing medical records and lost earnings, and assessing your future circumstances and needs. Contact us here.