Suicide advice shows reactive thinking

Workplace suicides are in the news at the moment due to Foxconn and, to a lesser extent, France Telecome.  There is enough media attention for companies to start to evaluate their own risk exposures.

Through LinkedIn, Tom Boudreau of R&R Insurance Services, issued the following advice under the title “Do Employers Have a Duty to Prevent Workplace Suicides?”:

“A tech company in China has recently been plagued with a rash of worker suicides (and attempted suicides). Nine workers (all of them young) died and two others suffered serious injuries. These workers have not only killed or tried to kill themselves, they’ve done so in the workplace itself. …..

Some labor groups have blamed the company for the suicides, claiming it runs military-style factories and abuses workers. Regardless of the cause, these tragic deaths do raise an interesting question: what duty do employers have—if any—to prevent workplace suicides?

…..Employers have a duty to protect workers from foreseeable hazards.  Thus, if a worker threatens to kill himself or exhibits other suicidal behaviour, an argument could be made that the employer has a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect that worker.”

This reactive approach to worker health is a typical example of the type of advice that can be received by insurance companies and risk advisors and the perspective is understandable even though it is limited.

Occupational health and safety professionals would advise that such a scenario as the threat mentioned in the third paragraph should be controlled or avoided before its manifestation.  The preventative principle of OHS would require a safe and healthy workplace to be established regardless of threat.  I would argue that such a threat is an indication that there are major organisational problems other than concerning the person making the threat.

How did a company allow a worker’s mental health to become so extreme?

The advice may be dismissed by some as typical from an American company or an insurance company, but the advice indicates an ignorance of human resources and OHS, regardless of the legislative jurisdiction.  It may be that the employer has no duty to prevent workplace suicides, as asked above.  The question would not arise if the employers’ positive duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment was emphasise and reinforced.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

One thought on “Suicide advice shows reactive thinking”

  1. It is simply good business to promote sound mental health in the workplace. Healthy work environments see fewer safety incidents since workers are more focused and attentive. In addition, productivity, creativity, quality, and innovation thrive in healthy workplaces. People who are less distracted have the energy to generate these attributes in their work, and, therefore, derive greater levels of satisfaction from their achievements.

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