Mental health needs in the workplace has been an evolving area of study and application and has been followed by the SafetyAtWorkBlog since its inception. Several recent statements and reports in Australia have shown that the subject continues to be discussed but not by those who can make the substantial social change, the Government, partly due to a lack of the type of evidence needed by Government to justify the change.
Mental Health is the core element of almost all the contemporary workplace hazards that are categorised as psychosocial. This includes stress, bullying, fatigue, suicide, work/life balance, and many more. Each of these categories are important but most reporting and a lot of the health promotion initiatives in the workplace focus on the manifestation of mental health instead of the source.
On February 21 2014 the chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), Jennifer Westacott, spoke about mental health and the workplace. Westacott is authoritative in her presentation but approaches workplace mental health from the same perspective as many others in this sector – the integration of mental health into the workplace rather than looking at the mental ill-health that workplaces can create. More…
On 29 January 2014 Australia’s Fairfax newspapers published an article called “Safety performances at Australia’s top companies is serious business” written by Adele Ferguson. The article is based on an analysis by Citi Research of the safety performance of companies listed in Australia’s ASX100 share index. Citi Research (Citi) has kindly provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with a copy of this report developed for its fund manager and superfund clients. It is a terrific reference document providing a useful insight to the OHS performance of prominent Australian corporations. It cannot be definitive but we know of nothing else like it in Australia.
In the Fairfax article Ferguson wrote:
“While safety is a complex issue largely due to the fact that safety records are difficult to measure and difficult to compare across companies and industries, it is an important area to explore. For starters, it is a good proxy for the way a company deals with staff and manages risk more generally.”
Safety does not have to be complex but the measurement of safety performance can be as, even though there is a (dreadfully outdated) Australian Standard for measuring OHS performance, companies tweak the existing measures and the principal measurement, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR), has been found to be a flawed indicator. LTIFR is tolerated as a measurement simply because a better alternative has not been developed or widely accepted.
The Citi Research report lists LTIFRs for most of the 117 companies but it balances this with almost as many Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rates (TRIFR). More…
For many years Vicki Hamilton has been a tireless worker in support of those suffering from asbestos-related diseases. She, and her colleagues at the Gippsland Asbestos Related Disease Support Inc. (GARDS), are based in regional Victoria and often struggle for recognition of their efforts. In the 2014 Australia Honours list, Vicki was awarded an Order of Australia ” for service to the community through support for people with asbestos-related diseases”.
It is well-deserved and I congratulate her on her achievement. I hope it, in some way, makes her job easier.
There will be two areas of occupational health and safety attention in the early months of 2014 in Australia – workplace bullying laws and the Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program. The labour law firms are gearing up for a “bumper year” as one said prior to Christmas and the business groups are already lobbying/complaining/whingeing about the workplace bullying laws administered by the Fair Work Commission. However the Royal Commission has the potential for the biggest social and ideological impact so, as the new year begins, I will attempt some predictions of the Royal Commission’s findings based around some of the terms of reference.
‘the processes by which the Australian Government made decisions about the establishment and implementation of the Program, and the bases of those decisions, including how workplace health and safety and other risks relating to the Program were identified, assessed and managed;’
This paragraph is the one that could have the most long-term effect on governance, due diligence and procurement. There are many suggestions on these issues in the sphere of project management but trying to keep the discussion in OHS, there are some useful comments on the Government procurement of services. Australia’s Federal Safety Commission acknowledges that procurement is an important stage in project design. WorkSafe Victoria’s ”handbook for the public sector – health and safety in construction procurement” says
“As procurers, governments can promote better health and safety by requiring projects to include a range of safety measures, such as specifying the safety budget, building layout or the use of certain More…
Safety professionals often pay over A$1000 upwards to attend a workplace safety conference. Most of these conferences are overpriced and serious questions should be asked about the knowledge return-on-investment. It seems occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are always looking for the next big thing, the “edge” but frequently they forget that value of old information, the value of human worth, the reason for joining the OHS profession in the first place.
Recently I attended an Annual Remembrance Service that commemorated those people who have died at work. The theme of the service was the importance of listening, particularly, to the widows and widowers, those who are still experiencing the pain of grief and, often, the injustice of OHS regulators and workers’ compensations schemes. The service was called “Remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have died from work-related causes” and conducted by the Creative Ministries Network and Work-related Grief Support, was small, touching and not half as religious as it could have been. More…
Dave Robertson of Quadbar.com has provided this article on a recent finding and recommendations of a New Zealand Coroner.
A New Zealand coroner, Brandt Shortland, recently handed down his findings on five farm-based quad bike deaths (Mendoza, McInnes, Ferguson, Cornelius and Van Der Pasch) that happened within six weeks of each other. Australian agricultural newspaper The Weekly Times reported,
“Mr Shortland [Coroner], who was a keynote speaker at a Farmsafe Australia symposium in Canberra last week, said all five deaths would have been prevented if the vehicles had Crush Protection Devices (CPD) installed”
In Coroner Shortland’s findings he found that quad bikes are best described as “error intolerant” and in the quad bike manufacturers’ view “a quad bike require a rider to make good decisions”. One NZ media report reports the Coroner as advocating continuing rider training but that
“… training and education cannot teach common sense or good judgement.”
Shortland supports the wearing of helmets while riding quad bikes and a taskforce review into roll-over protection structures (ROPS) which increases the significance of the current Australian review. The Coroner acknowledged the tension between safety advocates and quad bike manufacturers describing it as a “Mexican standoff”. More…
As part of annual safety week activities, South Australia’s Minister for Industrial Relations, John Rau, launched a workplace fatalities counter (on the right of the webpage). Rau said in a media release that
“As Safe Work Week begins in South Australia, we are reminded of the nine workers who have not returned home from work this year….. In a similar way to the reporting of the road toll, providing this information is a reminder to us all that we must make every effort to ensure this number does not rise.”
The comparison with the road toll is an admirable aim and one that some have advocated for but there are other potential metrics that may have had more impact. More…
The investigation into workplace deaths associated with Australia’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) was refreshed yesterday with the publication of some of the terms of reference for a new Government inquiry into the program. The HIP deaths is an enormously politically charged issue in Australia and the politics, and associated media attention, could derail an inquiry that has the potential to provide important occupational health and safety, risk management and governance issues.
Greg Hunt, Environment Minister is quoted as saying that
“The Government is committed to a full inquiry into Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme that was linked to the tragic loss of four young lives,….”
According to the Courier-Mail newspaper on 27 October 2013 there will be ten elements in the terms of reference but only four are mentioned:
- The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
- Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
- What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
- What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.
These four seem reasonable aims but this information has been leaked, the full terms of reference have not been released and a person to head the inquiry is yet to be announced.
One of the most discussed posts on this blog concerned an insurance company that paid the fines awarded against a company director. The company director had been found guilty of OHS breaches that led to the death of a worker. Yesterday, South Australia’s Deputy Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations. John Rau, said that he will be taking action to close the loophole that allows for this situation. But this is unlikely to succeed and may be a distraction from the more significant issue of new penalties for deterrence.
In a media release, not yet available online, Rau states that
“Insurance should not be the preference over safe equipment and safe workplace standards….
Whilst most employers do the right thing, this dodge effectively means that the incentive for a company to provide a safe environment for its workers is diminished or eliminated.”
Rau’s current strategy for closing this loophole, which is not really a legal loophole at all, is weak. Rau, a Labor Party politician, says that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However, Australia is ten days away from an election that the current (Labor) government is tipped to lose.
Australia’s conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has announced that he intends to conduct a judicial inquiry into the government’s handling of the home insulation program (HIP) that resulted in the deaths of four workers in Queensland and New South Wales in 2009 and 2010.
Such a call would, normally, be very welcome but the timing of Abbott’s announcement brings a level of political baggage that weakens his commitment. More…