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NSW workers compensation guidelines for the evaluation of permanent impairment

These guidelines explain permanent impairment assessment in the NSW workers compensation system. This is the fourth edition of these guidelines, published in April 2016.

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The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) has issued the 4th edition of the NSW workers compensation guidelines for the evaluation of permanent impairment (Guidelines) for assessing the degree of permanent impairment arising from an injury or disease within the context of workers’ compensation. When a person sustains a permanent impairment, trained medical assessors must use the Guidelines to ensure an objective, fair and consistent method of evaluating the degree of permanent impairment.

The Guidelines are based on a template that was developed through a national process facilitated by Safe Work Australia. They were initially developed for use in the NSW system and incorporate numerous improvements identified by the then WorkCover NSW Whole Person Impairment Coordinating Committee over 13 years of continuous use. Members of this committee and of the South Australia Permanent Impairment Committee (see list in Appendix 2) dedicated many hours to thoughtfully reviewing and improving the Guidelines. This work is acknowledged and greatly appreciated.

The methodology in the Guidelines is largely based on the American Medical Association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, 5th Edition (AMA5). The AMA guides are the most authoritative and widely used in evaluating permanent impairment around the world. Australian medical specialists representing Australian medical associations and colleges have extensively reviewed AMA5 to ensure it aligns with clinical practice in Australia.

The Guidelines consist of an introductory chapter followed by chapters dedicated to each body system.

The Introduction is divided into three parts. The first outlines the background and development of the Guidelines, including reference to the relevant legislative instrument that gives effect to the Guidelines. The second covers general assessment principles for medical practitioners applying the Guidelines in assessing permanent impairment resulting from work-related injury or disease. The third addresses administrative issues relating to the use of the Guidelines.

As the template national guideline has been progressively adapted from the NSW Guideline and is to be adopted by other jurisdictions, some aspects have been necessarily modified and generalised. Some provisions may differ between different jurisdictions. For further information, please see the Comparison of Workers’ Compensation Arrangements in Australia and New Zealand report, which is available on Safe Work Australia’s website.

Publications such as this only remain useful to the extent that they meet the needs of users and those who sustain a permanent impairment. It is, therefore, important that the protocols set out in the Guidelines are applied consistently and methodically. Any difficulties or anomalies need to be addressed through modification of the publication and not by idiosyncratic reinterpretation of any part. All queries on the Guidelines or suggestions for improvement should be addressed to SIRA at contact@sira.nsw.gov.au.

9. The visual system

AMA4 Chapter 8 (p 209) applies to the assessment of permanent impairment of the visual system, subject to the modifications set out below. Before undertaking an impairment assessment, users of the Guidelines must be familiar with:

  • the Introduction in the Guidelines
  • chapters 1 and 2 of AMA5
  • the appropriate chapter(s) of the Guidelines for the body system they are assessing
  • the appropriate chapter(s) of AMA4 for the body system they are assessing.

The Guidelines take precedence over AMA4 and AMA5.

Introduction and approach to assessment

10.1 The visual system must be assessed by an ophthalmologist.

10.2 AMA4 Chapter 8 (pp 209–22) is adopted for the Guidelines, without significant change.

10.3  AMA4 is used rather than AMA5 for the assessment of permanent impairment of the visual system because:

  • the equipment recommended for use in AMA5 is expensive and not owned by most privately practising ophthalmologists (eg the Goldman apparatus for measuring visual fields)
  • the assessments recommended in AMA5 are considered too complex, raising a risk that resulting assessments may be of a lower standard than if the AMA4 method is used
  • there is little emphasis on diplopia in AMA5, yet this is a relatively frequent problem
  • many ophthalmologists are familiar with the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists’ impairment guide, which is similar to AMA4.

10.4 Impairment of vision should be measured with the injured worker wearing their prescribed corrective spectacles and/or contact lenses, if that was normal for the injured worker before the workplace injury. If, as a result of the workplace injury, the injured worker has been prescribed corrective spectacles and/or contact lenses for the first time, or different spectacles and/or contact lenses than those prescribed before injury, the difference should be accounted for in the assessment of permanent impairment.

10.5 The ophthalmologist should perform, or review, all tests necessary for the assessment of permanent impairment rather than relying on tests, or interpretations of tests, done by the orthoptist or optometrist.

10.6 An ophthalmologist should assess visual field impairment in all cases.

10.7 In AMA4 Section 8.5 ‘Other conditions’ (p 222), the reference to ‘additional 10% impairment’ means 10% WPI, not 10% impairment of the visual system.