OHS awards consider work/life balance but not vice versa

On 15 March 2010, the Australian Government congratulated the winners of, and participants in, the 2009–10 National Work–Life Balance Awards.

According to a media release from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations:

“The Awards…. recognise family friendly practices like flexible working hours, options for working from home, paid parental leave, job sharing, onsite carer’s facilities and study assistance.”
Teleworking and flexible working hours are both directly relevant to occupational health safety but also through the OHS elements of work/life balance.  But the National Work-Life Balance Awards Team told SafetyAtWorkBlog that
“No direct OHS performance indicators were included in the judging criteria for the 2009-10 National Work-LIfe Balance Awards.”
The team did acknowledge that
“research shows that there is a correlation between work-life balance and health and well being.”

Integration of Awards Processes

It could be argued that with a new national Work Health & Safety Act that it is time to get rid of the demarcation between work/life balance and occupational health and safety.  A major tenet of work/life balance is the reduction of psychosocial hazards through establishing a balance.  A core component of the model WHS Act is the preservation of health which is defined as “physical and psychological health” (emphasis added).
Workplace Standards Tasmania already has a wellbeing award as part of  its workplace safety awards but this may be because of the comparatively State’s small size.
It may be that the HR advocates do not trust or understand the OHS professionals and vice versa and so the demarcation makes sense but the laws are eroding the demarcation so quickly that the demarcation is redundant.  Businesses do not tend to manage the two disciplines separately, indeed few would have the resources to do so, so why split the OHS management system?
If the two sectors do not start coordinating their efforts soon, they will allow confusion to be created in the public and employees’ minds and may generate ideological conflict or a turf war.  It would be good to see some of the much vaunted (and claimed) leadership from the HR and OHS associations applied to coordinate a solution.

Assessment Criteria

A major challenge for the integration of the safety awards and wellness awards could be that the assessment criteria is not compatible.  For instance, one of Western Australia’s safety awards criteria asks:

“Has there been a demonstrated improvement in OSH in the workplace as a result of the solution?
and requires applicants to
“Provide claims or injury/incident data and any other OSH reporting as evidence”.
Mostly, the evidence required for the National Work/Life Balance awards (not available online) relates to providing policies or “demonstrated commitment”.  In fact one the “Leading Practice Standards” is listed as
“Provide examples of how your initiatives have improved the business, retention and/or productivity of your workplace.”
It looks like the standards of evidence are miles apart between these two elements of workplace safety management.  One asks for evidence of commitment and the other asks for evidence of a reduction in injuries.  The practical and demonstrated benefits of the OHS awards are much clearer than those for work/life balance.

Long-term Benefit

The Australian OHS and wellness award system has needed a thorough review for some time.  The duplication of cost in supporting separate award processes between States, government authorities and professional associations is unsustainable, divisive and it promotes the “de-integration” of safety management to Australian businesses.
The time is right for a harmonisation of the awards processes just as the OHS laws are being harmonised.  If the government is serious about reducing red tape for Australian businesses and its own departments and authorities, it could do worse that cutting the duplication of awards that are supposed to promote the benefits of safe work, both in physical health and mental health.
It seems sensible to show the “cradle-to-grave” importance of safety and health to business and the community, by having one set of awards that promote the prevention of physical injury, the promotion of health and lifestyle benefits and the importance of suitable compensation or return-to-work capabilities.
Talk is cheap but vitally important.
Other blog articles with similar themes can be located by entering “awards” into the search field on the right.
reservoir, victoria, australia

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