Richards v Telstra Corporation Limited [2012] AATA 491

A worker, employed as a Team Leader at Telstra’s call centre in Townsville, had been experiencing problems with his right hand throughout 2005 and 2006. He would experience pain while he operated his computer at work and whenever he went to pick up something. He chose not to report the pain while it was occurring.

In January 2007 he finally reported the pain in his right hand to an occupational therapist, who, at the time, was conducting a workplace assessment at the Telstra Call Centre office. Following this, he didn’t formally address the issue until September 2010, when he took the matter up with his doctor. The doctor immediately diagnosed the pain as ‘tenosynovitis’ in the right wrist and thus deemed him to be certifiably unfit for work at the call centre for up to three weeks.

Following his doctor’s diagnosis, the worker brought forward a Comcare claim for compensation against Telstra. Telstra denied any liability after they had the worker assessed by an orthopaedic surgeon who stated that the worker’s symptoms and pain were not consistent with any organic pathology.

Unhappy with the report of the orthopaedic surgeon Telstra had the worker see, the worker sought advice from a different orthopaedic surgeon, who diagnosed him as suffering from low grade tenosynovitis. Furthermore, this surgeon concluded the injury was most likely to have resulted from the worker consistently reaching for his mouse at work. Upon receiving this diagnosis the worker sought reconsideration of the previous determination.

The matter was taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the AAT) which had to consider conflicting reports from surgeons and other medical evidence to try and determine whether the worker was suffering from tenosynovitis caused by activities performed within his place of employment. The AAT did make a note that there may have been a slight degree of exaggeration in the evidence brought forward by the worker, but despite this, the worker was found to be suffering a minor case of tenosynovitis.

In trying to determine whether the wrist injury had arisen from activities and tasks performed while he was working at the call centre, or his work simply contributed to the injury, the AAT noted that Telstra’s only valid evidence for other possible causes of the injury was the worker’s recreational love for deep sea fishing (deep sea fishing has been known to cause tenosynovitis). However, despite this, the AAT noted that the kinds of people who develop this condition from fishing are professionals who do it for a living, not recreational anglers.

Finally, in outlining their decision, the AAT noted that even though the worker had not sought medical treatment from a doctor until 2010, he had still mentioned the pain to an occupational therapist in 2007, and that the pain could have been relieved by resting his wrist on a mouse pad. This supported his claim that the injury was actually work-related.

The AAT concluded that Telstra was ultimately liable for the injury under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. Telstra was ordered to pay the worker’s costs, unless it provided submissions within a 14 day period.