Earlier this year, the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, announced a workplace program called WorkHealth. This illness prevention program is to be funded from WorkCover premium income and will focus on combatting health issues such as diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.
The rationale for the program is that poor health is contributing to workplace injuries and impeding rehabilitation.
There are several odd elements about the program. Firstly, its introduction was announced without WorkSafe Victoria’s knowledge, even the program is to be administered through that agency.
Secondly, the trade union movement was not involved in the program development. I am often critical of trade union influence being beyond its real level of support (look at New South Wales politics to see the complexities of this) but in any OHS program it is necessary to prepare the ground. The Victorian government did not do this, for whatever reason, so now should not be surprised if the program comes under suspicion and the unions are hesitant to support.
WorkHealth is an odd mix of public health promotion and workplace health reaction. There is support for such an approach from European initiatives and some Australian States are broadening OHS. But in both these circumstances, the programs are developed through traditional structures ensuring participation and “ownership”.
What is most interesting is that at a recent WorkSafe-sponsored OHS conference in Melbourne, John Merritt, Executive Director of WorkSafe made no mention of this three-month-old $600 million government program even though he was talking about future WorkSafe initiatives. He showed a new TV ad. He spoke about increased toughness on enforcement. But he did not mention WorkHealth.