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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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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Poor editing could increase confusion on workplace bullying Reply

One of the occupational health and safety (OHS) issues that does not “travel” well across international borders is workplace bullying.  Each country usually has its own laws (if at all).  Each operates in a different culture and each has a different definition of what constitutes workplace bullying.  Those who communicate and publish information on this hazard need to be sure that an article is relevant to its readership or at least clearly indicate the article’s overseas origin.

On 28 May 2014 the Australian Financial Review (AFR) published a US article on workplace bullying that was first published in  the Washington Post in March 2014 that purports to discuss workplace bullying but, to the Australian readership, the article describes bad management  practices and poor work behaviour, NOT workplace bullying. More…

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…

New Zealand trumps Australia on workplace bullying advice 3

Cover of workplace-bullying NZWorkSafe NZ has released “best practice guidelines” on workplace bullying.  Best practice is a nonsense term but this guide is a major step above similar guides in Australia, in particular.

Definitions

Guides always begin with definitions and the definition New Zealand has applied is the same as that in the recently released Australian workplace bullying guide but with a couple of odd semantic differences.  These variations should not have any effect on organisational changes required to prevent bullying but the variations are curious. Australia describes “unreasonable behaviour” the actions that generate the bullying as:

“…  behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.”

New Zealand’s definition is:

“…. actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising,  humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.”

Is there a difference between actions and behaviours?   More…

Media coverage on workplace bullying needs more depth and analysis 2

The Australian media has given workplace bullying the front page, probably because it is a slow news period and there have been no major disasters this Christmas period. However the coverage is of the new rules and opportunities for assistance offered by changes to the Fair Work Act that commence on 1 January 2014, rather than about prevention.

Most of the comments from the business groups in the article by The Age newspaper will be familiar from the last few months. Generally they object to what they see as red tape and increased regulation. Some also believe that workplace bullying should be handled through human resources rather than as an occupational health and safety (OHS) matter.

Red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy is a legitimate concern but one that, in large part, the business sector has allowed to happen. As discussed previously, much of the red tape originates from the risk management strategy of business where, when an issue or hazard cannot be eliminated or it is too difficult to try, insurance or liability protection is obtained. As others have said, too often the risk management of safety is corrupted to become risk management of legal issues. More…

Attitudinal survey has promise but the restriction of data stifles discussion 2

The “Australia’s Behaviour Concerns” (ABC) survey has received a good deal of press in Australia this week as it provides so many options for each State’s media to report on concerns identified by the survey’s respondents.  Of the thirty-eight concerns identified, three involve occupational health and safety (OHS) directly:

  • Work Harassment
  • Discrimination and Bullying
  • Unsafe Work Practices.

One of the significant issues with such surveys and findings is that these measure perceptions of safety and not the reality.  Community concerns may be high but may mostly reflect topical events, campaigns and advertising so in terms of verifying marketing and OHS awareness campaigns, the survey may be most useful.   More…

Fair Work Commission girds its loins for workplace bullying complaints Reply

Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable.  The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually.  WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints.  On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:

“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)

These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia.   More…