Early in 2008, the Victorian Government sprung a surprise on the OHS and health promotion industries by announcing a world-first initiative – WorkHealth. This program was to be funded by interest generated from the WorkCover scheme to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years.
WorkHealth loses stakeholder support
Two weeks ago, a well-respected OHS professional advised that key stakeholders in WorkHealth were very cool on the program. This confirmed previous questions raised in SafetyAtWorkBlog about the promotion, transparency and organisational support for WorkHealth. The professional stated that others were questioning the placement of WorkHealth in the OHS field rather than in health promotion.
Rumour has existed for some months that WorkHealth is a scheme that has been pushed by a narrow range of OHS and workers compensation advocates.
What made WorkHealth so interesting was that the concept originated from within the workers compensation field with workers compensation money. At the time, the wisdom of committing such a large amount of money to the initiative was questioned by many in the trade union and business areas. Why head in this direction when there were established mechanisms to reduce OHS and workers compensation costs?
The global economic problems, it is suspected, would have flowed to the investments of the WorkCover scheme and it would be interesting to know what the revenue allocation to WorkHealth now is calculated at.
OHS/Industrial Relations conflict
In The Age newspaper on 26 October 2008, WorkHealth gained some attention as business groups have now seen the criteria for the health assessments of workers. David Gregory of the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry described the criteria as a potential “industrial weapon”. According to the article,
“WorkSafe told The Age the idea of an initial ‘tick test’ screening process had been abandoned, and the proposed $130 million worth of prevention programs are not in the pilot at all.”
As is evident from the quote, it is the pilot scheme that is being rolled out, however it is clear from the comments of David Gregory and the state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, Steve Dargavel that industrial relations sensitivities have not been considered.
Gregory makes excellent points that good OHS professionals are already aware of – workplace safety can only succeed when industrial relations implications and conditions are considered before any intervention process.
OHS has broadened to include the hazards of fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, workloads, bullying and other matters that have encroached on health promotion and human resources over the last decade or so. A worker health program would have been more likely to be accepted through this osmosis rather than a surprise announcement.
Is this the end?
WorkHealth could work if it had been generated as a workplace application of public health programs. The challenge would have been to legitimise the expenditure in an already cluttered health promotion sector. How would WorkHealth have achieved this testing regime when business is already assessing its workers for psychological disorders, cholesterol, prostate health, hearing, asthma, and a whole range of modern health issues? It is unlikely that it could so.
It came down to health assessments in a different context – a context where there had been insufficient groundwork to establish the value of the program to its fundamental stakeholders, the unions and employer groups. To a much lesser extent, the program was not sufficiently integrated into the WorkSafe authority’s program before the announcement.
Also, the timing has been proven to be wrong. The global economic problems are beginning to squeeze business’ bottom line. The calls for workers’ compensation premium relief will increase in the same way that businesses have begun questioning the viability of an emissions trading scheme. WorkHealth is likely to be one of those program cut, so the government will claim, due to the changing economic climate. The lessons to be learnt are more wide-ranging than just economics.