Writing about workplace mental health is a tricky task. An article recently posted to Business News Western Australia shows how tricky it can be and how mental health can be misinterpreted as mental illness.
The headline, “Are you one of the 20% of workers that will experience a mental health issue?” clearly refers to workers but the first sentence of the article does not. “Australian adults” are not all “workers”.
Out of the total population of around 24 million Australians, Wikipedia estimates the working-age population of Australia (15 – 64 years) at round 67% (16 million, approximately). If we apply these statistics to the headline, there are 3.2 million workers who “will experience a mental health issue”. But is this annually, over one’s working life or over a lifetime? The article does not say.
Not only are the statistics messy, so is the terminology. More…
In August 2015, Western Australia’s Department of Mines & Petroleum (DMP) released a statistical analysis that seems to do little more than confirm what is already known. It is important to validate data but the mining sector often promotes itself as leading in occupational health and safety (OHS) but this report seems dull and dated. More…
Consulting firm Deloittes recently announced the merging of its occupational health and safety (OHS) and sustainability sectors in order to provide better customer services. In the article Deloittes says about the importance of workplace mental health:
“Given that one in six working age Australians live with mental illness including depression, that is costing Australian businesses at least $11 billion dollars each year, this is a growing area“.
But the source of this statement is unclear and this lack of clarity may be contributing to some of the inexactitudes in the mental health/wellbeing debate. More…
The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, called a “snap” election for the end of January 2015. On 11 January 2015, Newman tweeted:
“Queenslanders injured at work are covered by Australia’s strongest workers’ compensation scheme.”
This is a further example of political newspeak as what does a “strong” workers’ compensation scheme look like? Newman’s tweet included an image that provides some clarity to his claim.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.
Click here to see the complete report.
A spat has recently emerged on one of the safety discussion forums in Linkedin. The catalyst was a statement that
The source of this data, not disclosed at the time of the original post, was a company that sells
“…a great tasting, scientifically proven mix of cutting-edge branch chain amino acids and low Gi carbohydrates for sustained energy release, combined with a formulated blend of electrolytes for optimum hydration in harsh Australian conditions”.
The discussion quickly refocused from the original safety concern to one of unreliability of statements; sadly the discussion also became personal and abusive. but the discussion raised two discussion points:
- The reliability of statements on the internet, and
- the issue of hydration and work performance.
There have been many claims of a workplace bullying epidemic in Australia but there has always been a lack of evidence. Research has been targeted into specific industry sectors or regions but broad ranging studies have been few. This lack of evidence was a major frustration for the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying that concluded in late 2012. However useful evidence is beginning to appear.
A recent edition of the Journal of Health Safety and Environment included a report (subscribers only) entitled “The prevalence and nature of bullying: A national study of Australian workers”. The authors, Dr Sarven McLinton, Maureen Dollard, Michelle Tuckey and Tessa Bailey, wrote that the study
“… shows that nearly 7% of Australian workers reported bullying and harassment in the past six months.” (page 283)
One has to be very careful with surveys, particularly those involving business confidence or surveys of an organisation’s membership base. These are surveys of perceptions which may not correlate with reality and may be an excuse to lobby government or set an agenda rather than determining a societal truth. A recent example of this type of survey was produced by the Australian Industry Group entitled “Burden of Government Regulation“. The AiGroup’s media release accompanying the report states that
“Over 83% of employers surveyed listed regulation related to industrial relations and occupational health and safety as a significant regulatory burden in 2014.”
One of the major problems with this statement and similar ones throughout the report is the lumping together of industrial relations (IR) and occupational health and safety (OHS). CEOs may perceive these issues as sufficiently compatible to be inseparable but OHS and IR issues are managed in different ways, are regulated by different government agencies and operate from different moral bases. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6), elements not mentioned in the media release. The problem is exacerbated when reading the report itself because the 83% figure also includes workers compensation and employment costs (page 6).
The report also seems to describe OHS consultation as consuming
“non-productive time with little practical value”!!
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In the next edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Dr Tony Lower, Director of Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety and Monash University researchers ( Angela J Clapperton and Emily L Herde) will be providing more evidence about the death and injury rate associated with the use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and quadbikes. A unique feature of this study is that “it is the first Australian study quantifying injuries from three different data sources.”
This research is timely as only last week a Tasmanian court case was occurring over a quad bike incident on a dairy farm. According to a newspaper report on the case:
“Defence counsel Glynn Williams told magistrate Michael Brett that quad bikes were inherently unsafe and unstable…. [and]
“There is ongoing carnage on farms and while the government can legislate to make stronger and stronger dog laws there is no willingness to legislate for stronger quad bike laws”
According to a media statement on the MJA paper due for release on 16 September 2013, Lower says:
“As the data indicates not only are there increasing numbers of quad cases, they are also more serious than other similar injuries. Further, because of their threat to life, they will frequently require higher levels of medical treatment and longer recovery periods for the victims.”
“The impact of deaths and serious injuries from quad bikes is significant and I am sure everyone would like to see a decrease in these incidents.”
There is a logic being applied to workplace safety and public policy that does not ring true. The argument seems to be that productivity levels in Australia are low, that part of the reason for this low productivity is excessive business paperwork and that workplace safety regulators are a major contributor. (SafetyAtWorkBlog has written around this topic previously.)
The authority on productivity in Australia is, unsurprisingly, the Productivity Commission (PC). In mid-June 2013, the commission released its Productivity Update, the first of promised annual reports. Search in the document for “workplace safety” and there is no mention, even “safety” only pulls up a couple of public safety references. Nothing for “workplace” either.
In fact, the report states that
“Strong growth in labour productivity in the December quarter of 2012-13 could be a sign that a broader improvement in MFP growth is now underway” (page 2)
“modelling shows that a comparatively small increase in the rate of labour productivity growth (primarily due to higher MFP growth) could lead to a comparatively large increase in the level of real GDP per person by 2050.” (page 2)
2050 is a long way off but the forecast is for an increase in productivity and the growth in the December quarter could indicate a trend. So for all the productivity gloom and doom being written about in the business newspapers, the reality may be different. More…