Business should stop complaining about paying for mental health. It’ll boost the bottom line.

[Article reprinted, with permission, from the May 24 edition of Crikey newsletter]

Luke Slawomirski

During the 2020 lockdowns, the business lobby showed a surprising concern for Victorians’ mental health: lockdowns were bad because they’d cause a spike in mental illness and suicides far worse than the COVID-19 cases and deaths they’d prevent.

The suicide spike never happened. What did happen was much-needed additional funding for mental health — $3.8 billion over four years — announced in the 2021-22 state budget on Thursday.

But the way business reacted suggests its interest in mental health has waned.

You see, the measures aimed at better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental ill health will be funded by a levy: 0.5% for businesses with payrolls above $10 million and 1% for those above $100 million. Critics, including the federal treasurer, claim this will cruel “job creation and confidence“.

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OHS subtext in Industrial Manslaughter discussions

Senator Deborah O’Neill continued her attack on Australia’s Liberal/National party government in Senate Estimates hearing last week.

With the Work Health and Safety (WHS) ministers split on the introduction of an Industrial Manslaughter (IM) offence in the Model WHS laws, Senator Michaelia Cash, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and chair of that WHS meeting, could have voted in favour of these IM changes but declined. O’Neill saw this as a political weakness and challenged Senator Cash to justify her decision. The justifications, with a hint of arse-covering, were morally weak but legally sufficient. At one point, Senator Cash said:

“… a fundamental principle of work health and safety regulation in Australia, as you would be aware, is that liability should focus on risk, not outcome, because the evidence shows that when you focus on risk, as opposed to outcome—and the outcome that you are referring to here is a terrible outcome: a death in a workplace—it’s been proven to actually improve health and safety in workplaces.”

Hansard, June 2, 2021, page 8
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Cause is not the same as Correlation

Politicians and executives love to claim a cause when there is only a correlation. This was displayed recently in Australian Senate Hearings on the issue of occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Manslaughter (IM).

Wiktionary defines Cause as:

The source of, or reason for, an event or action; that which produces or effects a result.

And Correlation as

A reciprocal, parallel or complementary relationship between two or more comparable objects.

The conflation of these two very different relations has been a serious drag on OHS progress in practice and policy.

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The causes of unsafe behaviours

This blog has always had strong reservations about the occupational health and safety (OHS) focus on the unsafe behaviour of workers to the exclusion of organisational and socio-economic factors. A recent research study on Iranian workers provides a fresh look at the causes of unsafe behaviours applicable to a wide range of occupations.

The report* by Mahdi Malakoutikhah, Mehdi Jahangiri, Moslem Alimohammadlou,
Seyed Aliakbar Faghihi, Mojtaba Kamalinia of the Shiraz University in Iran found three factors contributing to unsafe behaviours:

  • Organisational
  • Individual
  • Socio-economic

Nothing radical in those categories but the subcategories and themes are more useful as this table shows.

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Latest Psych Health Code released

The big occupational health and safety (OHS) news in Australia has been the New South Wales release of its Code of Practice for Managing Psychological Hazards at Work. This Code is not mandatory but is a very good indication of what the OHS regulators (and perhaps eventually the Courts) believe are reasonably practicable measures for employers and business owners to take. These measures are discussed in detail below.

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Australia gets serious on psychological health at work

Below is an article written by Carlo Caponecchia and published originally on May 25 2021. Caponecchia is a leading figure in workplace psychological hazards and strategies. The article is reproduced with permission.


Employers are about to ramp up their efforts to protect mental health at work.

Last week, workplace health and safety (WHS) ministers from around Australia agreed to changes that will formalise what’s expected of employers in relation to mental health in Regulation. 

These changes respond to a review of the model WHS laws by Marie Boland, former Executive director at Safework South Australia. The model WHS laws are a “blueprint” used since 2011 to make safety laws more consistent across the States and Territories. 

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