Workplace mental health deserves more attention 1

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…

SafeWorkSA’s fatality ticker is a good initiative but other metrics could add punch 2

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…

Workplace bullying can exist in the boardroom 4

A most curious article about workplace bullying appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 11 September 2013. In discussing recent changes to Australia’s Fair Work Act Nick Ruskin of K&L Gates wrote about the broad definition of workplace bullying to be applied:

“…the intriguing thing is that worker is very broadly defined. Its definition, reliant on the Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011, is so wide it could even include the director of a corporation.

In other words, non-executive directors of corporations will have the same ability as a traditional worker to take a bullying grievance to the Fair Work Commission.

We could see a situation in which a company director alleges they have been bullied by another director and seeks early intervention from the Commission.” (emphasis added)

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Workplace bullying continues to be a hot topic in Australia 4

Tooma bullying 2013At the Safety Show this afternoon, prominent Australian labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, spoke bluntly and confrontingly about workplace bullying in front of several hundred trade show delegates. For those companies who value a safety culture or are trying to create one, Tooma stated that if work colleagues do not stand up to bullying or report bullying as the OHS issue it fundamentally is, they are condoning the bullying.

Tooma also applies the “duty of care” broadly and says that the application of the duty of care does not sit with one person or an organisation. More…

One is never too young to learn about safety but we may be too old to change 11

Recently a colleague of mine expressed regret that occupational health and safety in Australia is no longer occupational. Occupational health and safety (OHS) established its parameters in its title but now most of Australia is bound to Work Health and Safety laws. Work is more than a workplace and so the discipline, the OHS profession, became more complex. Some would say that it has always been complex and that many OHS professionals failed to see the bigger picture, the broad social context of workplace health and safety.

Children 6582I was reminded of my colleague’s regrets when someone on a construction site recently asked for my opinion on some pictures of her son, at a childcare centre, hitting some nails into a block of wood. The boy (pictured right, at home) was wearing safety glasses, albeit a little large; the “work area” was separated from the rest of the children and the boy was supervised at all times by a child care worker. I was told that some of the parents had expressed concern that such an activity should not be happening in a childcare centre due to the potential risk to other children.

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IR to HR to OHS to WHS to Mental Health in one lunchbreak Reply

Every so often, legal seminars on industrial relations and occupational health and safety identify possible solutions instead of spruiking a lawyer’s latest publication or showing off legal expertise and OHS ignorance.  In a lunchtime seminar in July 2013, Melbourne law firm Maddocks provided 30 minutes of clarity on flexible working arrangements and another 30 on workplace bullying providing a useful and refreshing bridge between human resources, industrial relations and OHS.

Flexible Work Arrangements

The Fair Work Act seems to be constantly changing and one of the most recent changes is a revision of flexible working arrangements.  These arrangements have always been on the fringe of OHS but integral to HR where returning to work from extended leave needs phasing in, or where one’s familial situation has changed so that 9 to 5 is no longer manageable.  OHS is not overt in these negotiations More…

Manual handling assessment process from Australia has merit 5

There has been little movement on the assessment and management of manual handling risks in Australia during the period of OHS/WHS harmonisation.  Just an hour or so ago, Work Health and Safety Queensland released a video that outlines its manual handling assessment program PErforM – Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks.

A PErforM manual for trainers seems to have been around since February 2012 but the new video should create fresh interest in the program that is supported by a new handbook.

Manual handling risk assessments are one of the most difficult tasks for business and safety people but they can also be a safety task that offers the greatest financial and worker rewards.  This initiative is a relatively new look at an old OHS problem.

Kevin Jones

Very useful workplace mental health guidelines released 4

The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has released a set of guidelines for the prevention of mental health problems at work. Such guidelines have been sorely required in Australia where workplace mental health problems have become an increasing problem for workers and organisations and workplace bullying dominates the policy landscape. It recommends the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that includes the following elements:

  • “the development of a positive work environment that supports and encourages mental health
  • balancing job demands with job control
  • appropriately rewarding employees efforts
  • creating a fair workplace
  • provision of workplace supports
  • effective management of performance issues
  • provision of training to develop management and leadership skills
  • supportive change management processes More…

WorkHealth raises health awareness but only so far Reply

Last week the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) released a review of the WorkHealth program.  The results are very positive and deserve detailed analysis.  However these analyses do not seem to address all the expectations of the Victorian Government when the program was launched several years ago.

Cover of workhealth_synthesis_reportPremier John Brumby said at the launch of WorkHealth that

“Over time the program is expected to free up $60 million per year in health costs, as well as:

  • Cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10 per cent;
  • Cut workplace injuries and disease by 5 per cent, putting downward pressure on premiums;
  • Cut absenteeism by 10 per cent; and
  • Boost productivity by $44 million a year.”

One of the key findings of the research seems to meet two of the program’s aims:

“Modelling of outcome forecast goals for a 10% reduction in absenteeism and a 5% reduction in compensable injury rates are likely to be met, especially as health promotion program uptake increases.” (page 5)

It is reasonable to expect from a 4-5 year study of hundreds of thousands of work health checks that hard data be obtained but as the quote above reveals, the researchers needed to apply modelling and draw on research from other sources. More…

New workplace bullying laws generate heated debate 1

Today Australia hosts a No2Bullying conference.  It is a timely conference as the debate on Australia’s changes to the Fair Work Act in relation to workplace bullying heats up.

Lawyer Josh Bornstein is particularly critical of the politicisation of the amendments and believes this increases the instability or remedies available to victims of workplace bullying by increasing pressure on under-resourced OHS regulators.

The amendments are unlikely to reduce the incidence of workplace bullying in Australia as they address post-incident circumstances.

As the new legislation is being passed through Parliament, the industrial relations, political and legal context will dominate the media, More…