Workers’ compensation claims for occupational tuberculosis in South African health workers: Outcomes and workers’ experiences

N van de Water, A Yassi, R Ehrlich


Background. Given the elevated risk of tuberculosis (TB), including drug-resistant disease, experienced by health workers in South Africa (SA), effective workers’ compensation for occupational TB is a legal right and an essential social benefit.

Objectives. To investigate the experience of the workers’ compensation system among health workers who suffered from TB while working in public service facilities in Western Cape Province, SA.

Methods. In this case series with a qualitative component, 300 claims for occupational TB in health workers were sampled from the provincial health department database of claims submitted. Claim status for each case was ascertained. An attempt was made to contact each health worker for a telephonic interview consisting of both closed- and open-ended (qualitative) questions. Fifty-one interviews were completed.

Results. In nearly half of the cases, there was no record of claim status on the state Compensation Fund website. Of the 51 interviewees, only one had received all the compensation benefits for their particular claim circumstances. Health workers’ experience of having their cases reported for compensation purposes was marred by perception of poor communication and administration. The experience of contracting TB was further characterised by surprise, perceptions of stigma, financial burden and ongoing ill-health.

Conclusions. Affected health workers’ experience of the workers’ compensation system was mostly negative, adding to the burden of being ill with TB. Education of management and clinicians, improvement in communication, and timeous and regular checking of claim status and of payment of applicable compensation are required at the provincial level. Dedicated facility-based occupational health units are needed, with a staff complement of knowledgeable persons trusted by their colleagues. However, the effectiveness of the system is ultimately dependent on the ability of the Compensation Fund to register and display claims timeously and administer compensation expeditiously.


Authors' affiliations

N van de Water, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

A Yassi, School of Population and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

R Ehrlich, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

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Health workers; Workers’ compensation; TB; Tuberculosis; Occupational disease; Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act; COIDA

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2020;110(5):389-395. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i5.14247

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-04-29
Date published: 2020-04-29

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