Mental health missing from key OHS statistics Reply

Cover key-whs-stat-2015Part of the core duties of any occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator is the production of data. Recently Safe Work Australia (SWA) released its “Key Work Health and Safety Statistics” for 2015 and given the amount of media attention on workplace mental health, one would expect mental health to be one of the key statistics.  It’s not.

In fact mental health is referenced only once in the document on page 28.  The table states that for the decade of 2000-2001 to 2010-2011

“mental disorders…did not display a clear overall trend of increase or decrease”.

This is significant in the context of workplace mental health reporting.  Is the reported increase in workplace mental health a myth?  Safe Work Australia’s statistics seems to support this. More…

The exploitation of happiness 2

As the Australian Government analyses the productivity of the workplace it is vital that that analysis reflects the modern workplace and management practice. At the moment Australian workplaces are awash with training programs focusing on resilience and happiness, implying that each individual can change and improve a workplace culture but there has always been an undercurrent of manipulation to these courses and seminars.  A new book by William Davies provides a fresh perspective that, rightly, questions the motives behind this modern trend and provides an important historical context. (For those who can’t purchase the book but want to know more, look at this series of articles)

Davies’s book,  “The Happiness Industry – How the Government and Big Business Sold Us well-Being”“, is a big picture look at the economics and politics of happiness but has direct relevance to the workplace and occupational health and safety (OHS) as well-being and mental health has become increasingly influential in managing workers and their safety. Davies writes that since the 1990s: More…

Book Launch of Job Quality in Australia 1

Last week this blog reviewed the book Job Quality in Australia emphasising how worker safety, health and well-being is a vital element of job quality which, in turn, is crucial for Australia’s productivity. In preparation for a book launch in Sydney on 23 June 2015, the University of Sydney has released a media statement (available online later today) from one of the book’s authors and editors, Professor Angela Knox.

According to the media release, Professor Knox believes that:

“You measure job quality through wages, job security, training and skill development, and career development opportunities…. Australia is falling behind the developed world because we don’t have proactive policies that will allow us to improve the quality of jobs.”

“If we don’t actively work towards improving the quality of jobs personal wellbeing declines, job satisfaction declines and this limits productivity, employment levels, innovation and economic growth…

“We need to educate employers so that they know what their choices are and how they can go about improving jobs…. Good policies and education lead to a virtuous cycle of high quality jobs boosting further job growth.”

Kevin Jones

The ripple effect of workplace suicides 5

Suicide is a reality in many workplaces.  Work may exacerbate the stresses and psychological conditions leading to people thinking of suicide and it can create those stresses.  Most workers at risk of suicide show signs of distress, just as all workplaces show signs like near misses, but these signs are often not recognised. Mates in Construction is one program that teaches the recognition of these signs after an increasing suicide rate but Australian farmers are also killing themselves.  This reality has generated The Ripple Effect program to, initially, raise awareness of the risks and to de-stigmatise suicide and psychological issues. More…

Is methamphetamine a significant workplace hazard? 5

The Australian Industry Group (AIGroup)  submission to the Australian Government’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice, has been made publicly available.  The submission focuses on the risks to all workplaces, primarily, by imposing non-work statistics onto the workplace, lumping Ice in with other illicit drugs, and relying on anecdotal evidence. This approach is not unique to AiGroup and can also be seen regularly in the mainstream media but such an important Inquiry requires a much higher quality of evidence than anecdotes.

The submission references a recent Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report into Ice saying it:

“… paints a bleak picture for the community and Australian workplaces. This combined with greater ease of access, including in regional areas, places Australian workplaces at risk.

A key requirement for employers seeking to manage safety risks arising from persons attending work affected by Ice is the ability to conduct workplace drug and alcohol testing.” (page 3)

The ACC report refers almost exclusively to the hazards presented to hospital and emergency staff, not by Ice use by staff, and yet is able to link Ice-affected public to the drug testing of workers. More…

“Job Quality” progresses OHS thinking 1

On housing affordability this week, Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, suggested a solution would be to get a “good job”. This occurred a month or so after the publication of a terrific book (that Hockey obviously has yet to read) called “Job Quality in Australia“, edited by Angela Knox and Chris Warhurst for Federation Press. The editors write about the importance of job quality which “…affects attitudes, behaviour and outcomes at the individual, organisational and national level” (page 1) and job quality’s political context:

“While the current Abbott government is primarily concerned with improving Australia’s macro-economic position, such a position is unlikely to be achieved and sustained without a policy agenda focusing on job quality.” (page 2)

Significantly for this blog’s readership, the book has a chapter, written by Michael Quinlan and Philip Bohle, on the impact of organisation on workplace health, safety and wellbeing. More…

Is OHS an invisible science? Reply

On 1 June 2015 Australia’s Radio National broadcast a discussion about the future of work, in support of a Vivid Festival conference. Listening to the discussion through the prism of occupational health and safety (OHS) is an interesting experience as work/life balance is promoted as empowering the individual but, as we know in OHS, individuals often sacrifice their safety for income or deadlines or project demands, contrary to their legislative obligations. The workplace flexibility that many people seek allows the individual to manage the workload and develop or design the working environment. In other terms they establish an unregulated workplace. So what influence will OHS have in these new and emerging workplace configurations? Probably very little.

ABC’s Natasha Mitchell spoke with the curator of the conference Jess Scully. The context seems to be workplace flexibility, primarily, in the creative industries but not exclusively. Mitchell says that this increased flexibility can be seen in an increase in short-term contracts, job insecurity and “inadequate conditions” to which can be added unsafe work environments. More…

ACTU Congress’ draft OHS policies deserve serious analysis 2

Pages from draft-2015-actu-congress-policies-2015-consolidatedThe Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week.  Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress.  These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context.  Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.

Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included

“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)

Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”.  Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define.  Better for whom?  Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.

Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible.. More…

Everyone wants a quick fix – OHS is no different 2

One of the professional disciplines that has had the biggest impact on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australia has been sociology but that influence seems to be waning as it fails to compete with the managerial imperative of short-termism and the quick fix.

This demand for a quick fix is partly a result of the increased sensitivity to reputational damage of both the organisation and the executive. This can be seen by the increasing attention to apparent solutions to safety problems of the individual worker, for instance, resilience training which is primarily about the individual toughening up.  Neuroplasticity has entered OHS by saying that the individual can reconfigure their brain to, somehow, work more safely. Of course, the ultimate short-term solution to most workplace problems has existed for years  – sack the worker.

All of this denies the organisational influence on workers, managers and executives because organisational change is hard and it takes time, both are challenges that do not fit with modern expectations of business.

One of the clearest examples of the inability or unwillingness of executives to improve OHS through organisational change is the management of workplace bullyingMore…

Cancer data needs to start a discussion on effective controls 4

Cover of Cancer Occupational reportThe Cancer Council of Western Australia has released a report (not yet available online)that states:

“The number of occupationally caused cancers compensated each year equates to less than eight per cent of the expected number.” (Executive Summary)

This is an extraordinary statistic but consistent with the history of occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics where the core data originates from compensation figures rather than incident figures.  Cancer has always been a challenge in this area as it can manifest years after exposure or not at all. But this report also provides important data, and a challenge, for OHS professionals and business owners as

“Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.” (Executive Summary)

The report has an excellent discussion on why such statistics are estimates and the unreliability of previous data in Australia and overseas but there is only a short, but important, discussion about risk and hazard controls – the principle focus for OHS professionals. More…