When a financial newspaper or website posts an article about workplace safety, it is worth reading. The fact of such an article does not mean, though, that safety management is the focus of the story.
A 17 November 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal, ” Workers Denied Company Help Due to Stress-Related Complaints” understandably reports on new workplace stress statistics in a way attractive to its readers. Sadly it reports on “how can the problem be managed?” rather than the next step that OHS professionals should always take, “how can this problem be eliminated?”
The paragraph that clearly illustrates this myopia is
“Companies are now faced with critical decisions over how to tackle stress. The first step, according to Dr. Wright, is to provide workers with access to a dedicated help line service. “Picnics, parties … those things are nice to have when the times are good, but it is the fundamental things – like making sure your role fits your skills and having the support of your manager – that matters the most now.”
A help line as a first step? The article is full of statistics that illustrate the reality of the hazards. Talking to a sympathetic counselor throws the responsibility (blame?) onto the individual and away from the organisation.
Earlier in the article Aviva’s Dr Wright said that workers are
“…being pushed to work harder, longer hours, in roles they are often not trained for…”
He acknowledges that workload and excessive hours is a contributory factor but makes no recommendations for changing these hazards. Dr Wright accepts the traditional wisdom that harsh economic times leads to these pressures and individuals must cope, with some assistance from the employer.
It is probably unfair to expect the Wall Street Journal to publish an article that proposes fundamental change to the corporate order on the basis of valuing the mental health of employees. But OHS professionals and advocates, those speaking from a position of independence, must keep reminding business, and (sadly) some OHS regulators, that long-term sustainability will only come from valuing the workforce as human beings and not as cogs in the race for executive performance bonuses.
Below is a list of links to some of the reports mentioned in the WSJ article.
Aviva UK Health of the Workplace 2009 (report not found)