Evidence on the need for safe job design

One reader has provided an example of recent research that supports the previous SafetyAtWorkBlog article on the importance of quality and safety in job creation.

In the March 2011 online edition of the Occupational & Environmental Medicine journal, Australian researchers have analysed data concerning “the psychosocial quality of work”.  According to an accompanying media release (not available online yet) they found that

“The impact on mental health of a badly paid, poorly supported, or short term job can be as harmful as no job at all…”

The full report requires analysis and thought in the methods of mental health assessment and comparison but the researchers also found that

“Getting a high quality job after being unemployed improved mental health by an average of 3 points, but getting a poor quality job was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed showing up a loss of 5.6 points.”

Researchers state that

“Psychosocial job quality is a pivotal factor that needs to be considered in the design and delivery of employment and welfare policy…”

The need to design in psychosocial job quality parallels some of the “safety in design” push that Australia and elsewhere has experienced over the last decade but would seem to be a far greater challenge, not least due to public mental health getting far more support and attention than workplace mental health.

There is a growing body of evidence that OHS regulators are behind the times on the issue of psychosocial hazards in the workplace.  Safe Work Australia has psychosocial-related Codes of Practice in the second stage of public comment (yet to be detailed) but then only for bullying and  fatigue management.  It could be argued that too much attention has been given to workplace bullying in comparison to workplace stress which could affect workplace flexibility, work-life balance and a host of organisational structural and human resources issues.

The research paper referred to above (and referenced below) provides local evidence of the importance of “safe job design”.  The research should be analysed by OHS regulators and OHS policymakers to build jobs that are mentally sustainable and to provide an occupational context to better mental health initiatives

Kevin Jones

The psychosocial quality of work determines whether employment has benefits for mental health: results from a longitudinal national household panel survey”  Online First 2011; doi10.1136/oem.2010.059030
Researchers were, P Butterworth, LS Leach, L Strazdins, SC Olesen, B Rodgers & DH Broom

2 thoughts on “Evidence on the need for safe job design”

  1. Exactly how is this reducing physical injury in the workplace?

    I would suspect that OHS motivated employers in general would put more emphasis on physical aspects of safety and issues relating to mental health wouldn\’t really appear on their radar.

    If we are not succeeding in reducing physical injury in the work place then the chances of making any impact with work – life balance – mental health matters would seem a forlorn hope.

    It is nice to see research is being undertaken, however, what is the objective? if it is not to develop prescriptive law to enforce recommendations and it is left to voluntary implementation then one only has to look at current non compliance with OHS law which is a travesty.

    This is the reality.

    1. Tony, in answer to part of your comment, fatigue, impairment and distraction are being recognised as significant contributors to physical injuries. By controlling mental health issues it is argued that physical injury rates will reduce.

      Kevin

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