Inexactitudes could lead to OHS myths

Consulting firm Deloittes recently announced the merging of its occupational health and safety (OHS) and sustainability sectors in order to provide better customer services.  In the article Deloittes says about the importance of workplace mental health:

“Given that one in six working age Australians live with mental illness including depression, that is costing Australian businesses at least $11 billion dollars each year, this is a growing area“.

But the source of this statement is unclear and this lack of clarity may be contributing to some of the inexactitudes in the mental health/wellbeing debate.

It is worth looking at the reference of the $A11 billion figure before re-quoting this figure as one derived by Deloittes. Deloittes’ footnote to the $A11 billion states:

The cost estimate includes direct costs (payment of wages and medical costs) and indirect costs (lost productivity, loss of future earnings and social welfare payments). Under the methodology adopted, workers’ compensation premiums are not considered as a cost to the employer but treated as a burden to the community as compensation payments are redistributed to injured and ill workers.”

Economic Cost 2013It is odd that workers’ compensation premiums are not included in this figure as most would consider such insurance as a business cost.  Deloitte sees both the premium and the payments to injured workers instead as a “burden to the community”.  Safe Work Australia has acknowledged that workers and the community share the majority of costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses with employers only involved with around 5% of costs but that 5% is important  and it is odd that Deloittes seems to ignore this figure.

Elsewhere in Deloitte article a footnote directs the reader to the November 2014 Report for the National Mental Health Commission and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance. It is believed that this is the document to which it refers, accessible from the National Mental Health Commission website. That report mentions an $A11 billion cost (page 9):

“Economic analyses consistently show that mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are costing Australian businesses between $11 and $12 billion dollars each year through absenteeism, reduced work performance, increased turnover rates and compensation claims”.

This statement also mention workers compensation claims rather than premiums so perhaps Deloitte is being consistent. But, still shouldn’t premiums be included in estimates as they are a cost that business pays?

The sources of the $A11-12 billion figures are footnoted in the Mental Health report and are worth seeking out.  These are:

“National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. National occupational health and safety commission annual report 2002–2003. Canberra: National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, 2003

LaMontagne A, Sanderson K, Cocker F. Estimating the economic benefits of eliminating job strain as a risk factor for depression. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2011; 68: A3″ (links added)

The age of the NOHSC report should be noted as the recent re-quoting of the figures implies that the data is less than a decade old. The NOHSC data is from 2003.  LaMontagne‘s data is more recent although page 21 of the report states:

“The societal cost of depression in employed Australians that is attributable to job strain was estimated at $730 million over one year, and $11.8 billion over a lifetime.” (emphasis added)

Contrast this to the original Deloitte quote above and the differences are obvious. LaMontagne only refers to job strain which Deloitte mentions “mental illness including depression”. Deloitte quotes and annual cost but LaMontagne says this is over a lifetime.

Deloitte may be referring to another research report for its data but, if so, there is no clear path to it through the Deloitte article.

This lack of a clear track back to the research data can contribute to inexact statements which can quickly evolve into myths and misconceptions. It is in everyone’s interest to summarise and simplify research into terminology and concepts that the average reader and decision makers can understand and use but this process can also vary the evidence or overstate its importance or divert its relevance.  It is vital that OHS professionals question statements, particularly statistical and cost estimates, and especially in the area of OHS and mental health where such analysis remains in early development.

Kevin Jones





2 thoughts on “Inexactitudes could lead to OHS myths”

  1. Kevin, our data shows that after three fatalities for work deaths, three widows were nurses who did not return to work. Two were theatre nurses.

    Widows often do not return to work following a death in the work place. Research into this would be a valuable insight into the cost of a work death in the broader sense.

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