Suicide Differently

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Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (with a signing interpreter) speaking at the National Suicide Prevention Conference

Over 600 delegates at the National Suicide Prevention conference in Melbourne in July 2019 heard one speaker almost invoke the “Safety Differently” concept to suicide prevention (Hands off, its ours, Ed.). This showed that suicide prevention approaches are maturing, but that advocates continue to operate in a public health/mental health silo.

Several speakers acknowledged that the suicide prevention strategies in Australia over the past few decades have failed to reduce the suicide rate. This has been known for some time as evident from this statement by Emeritus Professor Ian Webster in a 2017 publication “Postvention Australia Guidelines”:

“Prevention has always been part of the national suicide prevention strategy but its contribution is even more important now as some of the past initiatives have not been as effective in reducing suicide rates as we had hoped.”

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Suicide prevention at Victoria’s Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System began the first of a couple of days focusing on suicide prevention by reminding the audience that there are three kinds of interventions:

  • Universal – population level wellness
  • Selective – those who have suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  • Indicated – those who are engaging in suicidal behaviour

Occupational health and safety (OHS) concerns about harm prevention overlap with each of these to some extent, but the approach with the most opportunity for the prevention of harm is likely to be in Universal intervention. SafetyAtWorkBlog looked for discussion of work-related harm and interventions in yesterday’s Public Hearings.

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Comprehensive info on preventing skin cancer risks

Unrelated to the article earlier today about working in extreme heat, last week Australia’s Cancer Council released an occupational health and safety (OHS) guide for working outdoors and to prevent and avoid skin cancer. It is a timely release for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere as it allows us several months to review our sun protection policies and practices.

In the prevention chapter the guide follows the established Hierarchy of Controls but perhaps too closely on one issue. There is an assumption that outdoor work occurs primarily in daylight hours, the time of highest risk of ultraviolet (UV) risk. Under administrative controls the guide advise to Reschedule outdoor work programs” perhaps planning

“work routines so outdoor tasks are carried out earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when UV levels are lower”

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Can this job be performed in extreme heat?

Parts of Europe are sweltering in extreme Summer temperatures similar to what Australian workers have experienced. A comparison of just temperatures is unreasonable as the European challenge is greater than Australia’s because the society, buildings and operational structures are largely designed and configured for low temperatures and snow. In many ways climate change will be more disruptive for European businesses as Australia has always been hot and dry.

The occupational health and safety (OHS) advice on how to address, or cope with, extreme heat has always been focused on the individual’s capacity to work in heat rather than reconfiguring work to avoid these unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Here is some advice from an American law firm from early this month:

“Summer temperatures can create hazards for workers, and employers can be liable for not addressing conditions that could lead to injuries and illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Liability can arise whether work is being done outside in construction, landscaping, and agriculture, or inside in non-air conditioned manufacturing plants and warehouses.”

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