Harm prevention needs to look beyond the individual into the corporate and the systemic 4

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are excellent resources for minimising harm from workplace issues, particularly psychosocial hazards.  However this usually occurs after an event or an incident.  This reality was emphasised recently by a media release from AccessEAP that revealed “the top five causes of workplace stress” (not available online but an article based closely on the release is available HERE) .  The top 5 seems reasonable but the advice in the media release doesn’t seem to address the causes of the top 2 – Job Insecurity and Work Overload.  These are difficult hazards to address particularly as the causes may originate outside the workplace but the media release indicates that to be effective safety managers it is necessary to look beyond the company’s fenceline and accept that the prevention of harm is now just as much social and political as it is occupational.

The top 5 triggers of workplace stress according to AccessEAP are:

  • Job insecurity
  • Work overload
  • Organisational change
  • Conflict with managers or colleagues
  • Bullying and harassment

Such triggers are not unusual. In 2002 the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine (JOEM) reported the following causes of stress at work: More…

Where is the evidence for new moves on drug and alcohol testing? 10

On 1 July 2014, the Victorian Government introduce a mandatory drug and alcohol testing regime for the sections of the construction industry.  According to the government’s media release:

“New requirements for tighter screening of drug and alcohol use at construction workplaces across Victoria will commence from 1 July, helping to ensure a safer and more secure environment for workers.”

This decision has been made on the basis of “widespread reports of workers being intoxicated, and of drug distribution and abuse” but the rest of the media release reveals other reasons for these changes including political pressure on its Labor Party and trade union opponents in the months before a close State election. Premier Denis Napthine has indicated that the move is also about cracking down on “outlaw motorcycle gangs dealing drugs on the sites”.

But are reports of potential criminality on building site enough to introduce a drug and alcohol testing regime? It is worth looking at some of the existing research on drug and alcohol use (or its absence) in Australian and Victorian work sites.

More…

How can an OHS regulator get the management of its own staff so wrong? 3

How can an OHS regulator get the management of its own staff so wrong?

In June 2014, a NSW Parliamentary inquiry released its final report into Allegations of bullying in WorkCover NSW, that State’s occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator. The report found that

“…Workcover has a significant organisational problem with bullying.  This problem is a longstanding one and operates at a cultural level.” (page x)

The Committee Chairman Hon Fred Nile MLC, wrote that

“more effective leadership and governance is essential.” (page x)

Longstanding bullying problems?  Problems with leadership and governance?  Many companies and public sector organisations have had similar issues ambulances, police, fire services, research organisations, to name a few, and are working them through. What happened in New South Wales?

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Important safety perspectives from outside the OHS establishment 2

Real Risk - CoverWhen people mention safety, they are often really talking about risk.  In a similar way, people talk about the absurdity of ‘elf ‘n’ safety when they actually mean public liability or food safety or HACCP.  And when some professionals talk about risk management they mean minimising the cost to the employer or controlling reputational damage.

Recently two books were released that illustrate the limitations of the current Western/patriarchal society’s approach to workplace safety. Dr Dean Laplonge has written about gender and its role in making decisions and Dr Rob Long has written his third book on risk “Real Risk – Human Discerning and Risk“.  Both deserve close reading and that reading should be used to analyse how safety professionals conduct their work, the organisational environment in which they work and the cultural restrictions imposed in their technical education.

Laplonge has written a book out of the extensive research and training on gender issues in the mining industry.  “So you think you’re tough? – Getting serious about gender in mining” provokes thoughts and self-analysis about gender in the workplace and safety management systems.  This perspective may be part of the reason that attempts at changing safety cultures, particularly in industries where there is a strong gender imbalance – construction, mining, emergency services, nursing, teaching, struggle. (For those who cannot purchase the book, check out this free publication on the topic from the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum) More…

Mind Set – Mental Health in Australian Workplaces Reply

[This article was written by Helen Borger and was first published in the May-June 2014 edition of National Safety - a magazine of the National Safety Council of Australia.  Reproduced with permission. (Links added by SafetyAtWorkBlog editor) ]

rsz_ns__mayjun_2014A quick online search reveals a plethora of advice and information about choosing the right mood-altering paint colours for office walls and selecting the best beanbags for worksite chill-out spaces. Not to mention the availability of on-site massages to ease employee tension and anxiety.

It’s tempting to make these interventions the centrepiece of workplace mental health and wellbeing programs because they are feel-good, visible signs of management action that are relatively easy to implement.

Although these interventions have their place, when jobs, work processes and workers come under pressure, staff are more likely to be driven up the moodaltering walls than calmed down by them; cobwebs, not workers, are more likely to come to rest on the beanbags in the chill-out spaces; and on-site massages are unlikely to singlehandedly resolve employee tension and anxiety.

The cost of work-related stress in Australia is enormous. Employers are spending an estimated $8 billion per annum on sickness absence and presenteeism due to depression; of this, $693 million per annum is incurred due to job strain and bullying, says Safe Work Australia’s report on psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia.

“Regardless of cause, the estimated cost of productivity loss for the most psychologically unhealthy 25 per cent of the Australian workforce was $17.84 billion,” the report adds.

No excuses

CommuniCorp Group* managing director and principal psychologist David Burroughs says while many organisations understand the complexities of workplace mental health, and are willing to ask the hard questions and genuinely fix problems in their organisations, he still sees many other organisations that rely on employee assistance programs (EAPs) or tertiary interventions, and are looking for quick fixes to very complex problems.

“The reality is there are very few quick-fix solutions when it comes to psychological health in the workplace. You can’t just run [a product] off the shelf and expect it’s going to address the various needs across all the different job roles, job levels and workplaces that are out there,” says Burroughs.

Despite the complexities, he rejects the concern that workplace mental health problems are hard to fix. “We’re asking [employers] to acknowledge what’s actually going on in their workplace. We’re not uncovering problems that aren’t there. We’re not taking a lid off a can of worms,” he says. “The excuse that it’s too hard, or it’s hard to actually spot, or it’s too problematic, is no longer valid … an employer has a responsibility and an obligation to the business and to [their workforce].”

Beyond the quick fix

To avoid tokenistic solutions, Kevin Jones, a work health and safety (WHS) consultant and the publisher of www.safetyatworkblog.com, says it’s necessary to remind workplace leaders that the aim of occupational health and safety (OHS) and its laws is to remove harm at the source. He says often things that bring symptomatic relief, such as massages at desks, have no impact on the cause. More…

The first Annual Statement on workplace bullying data gets a C+ Reply

Recently Safe Work Australia released  its first annual statement on “Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces“.  This is a terrific initiative but it has a significant flaw – it combines statistical data for harassment and bullying even though they are different hazards, have different remedies, are usually handled by different professions in many organisations, and have different external appeal options.

The Annual Statement itself quotes its origin:

 “The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia issues an annual national statement which updates any emerging trends of its collated data from each of the state and territory regulators, and the Commonwealth, with respect to psychosocial health and safety generally and workplace bullying specifically“. (emphasis added)

Nowhere in the Annual Statement is there any data specifically addressing workplace bullying.  Bullying is always linked with harassment, contrary to the brief from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s workplace bullying report, as I read it.

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Beyondblue’s latest research report is too narrow 4

Beyondblue has just released a report into the cost of mental health in the workplace prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and called “Creating a mentally healthy workplace – Return on investment analysis“. The report is interesting but of limited use for those looking for ways to make their own workplaces safer and healthier with minimal cost.  The Beyondblue  media release claims

“… that Australian businesses will receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies.

The research, which looked at the impact of employees’ mental health conditions on productivity, participation and compensation claims, also found these conditions cost Australian employers at least $10.9 billion a year.”

The first claim looks attractive but achieving such a return is unlikely unless the company includes the following:

  • “commitment from organisational leaders,
  • employee participation,
  • development and implementation of policies,
  • provision of the necessary resources, and
  • a sustainable approach.” (page iv)

The best chance for the return on investment (ROI) will likely occur in a company that has an enlightened management, “necessary resources” and a leadership that is already likely to have mental health and a safe organisational culture on its agenda.  This is a rare combination which limits the application of the PwC report findings. More…

Well-being programs have their place 10

Many Australian newspapers include articles about workplace health in their job ad or professionals sections.  On May 3 2014 the Weekend Australia included an article called “Working harder for health“.  The article touches on most of the usual elements of such articles

  • individual responsibility;
  • increased productivity;
  • medical screenings; and
  • vaccinations and fruit bowls.

But (finally) the interviewee acknowledges the importance of looking beyond corporate well-being programs to  larger organisational issues. More…

Analysis needed on new workplace bullying data Reply

In December 2013 I wrote:

“The Age is correct in saying that claims of workplace bullying are “set to soar”. This has been predicted for some time, even privately by members of the Fair Work Commission, but the number of claims does not always indicate the level of a problem.” (link added)

Recently the Fair Work Commission (FWC) released its first quarterly report into anti-bullying  applications and the statistics indicate that there is no soaring of claims.  Sadly the report does not provide analysis only facts. More…

Self-employment should not be seen as a work/life solution Reply

Work/life balance is a close cousin to occupational health and safety (OHS), particularly health.  It is often the gateway people use to reduce occupational health risks such as stress and other psychosocial issues.  Moving to self-employment can be a successful strategy but it is not as easy as simply relocating one’s individual workplace or teleworking, the expected control on work hours may not eventuate and it may be very difficult to maintain a livable wage.  In The Saturday Age on April 26 2014 (not locatable on-line), Dr Natalie Skinner of the Australian Centre for Work + Life, provided a useful perspective.

Skinner writes that her annual surveys over the last six years have indicated that:

“self-employment is neither better nor worse for work-life conflict than being an employee.”

Skinner acknowledges that this seems odd because there has been so much debate about the win-win of workplace flexibility. More…