Tooma on Mental Health – Review

Michael Tooma is probably the most prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer in Australia. His latest book is, a little pretentiously, called “Michael Tooma on Mental Health“, but it fits with the series of OHS-related publications he has written for Wolters Kluwer. Unusually for a lawyer, there are only two chapters that specifically discuss legislative obligations, and, in many ways, these are the least interesting.


Positive Mental Health

In the Introduction, Tooma goes out of his way to stress the positive benefits of work. He is critical of the current OHS approach to workplace stress writing that we seek a “Goldilocks” application of perfection when this is really subjectively determined by each worker. Tooma challenges this in a major way through the 2012 study by Keller and others:

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OHS, organisational culture, sex abuse and the Catholic Church

The discussion of “organisational culture” has tried to remain apolitical or amoral, but it always relies of case studies to illustrate the academic and ephemeral. Largely these studies involve major disasters, but few people work in heavy industry, chemical plants, or offshore oil rigs. Better examples could be sought by looking at other industries, such as the Catholic Church. (I really hope someone is examining this relationship in a PhD)

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New gendered-violence guide is good on the What but thin on the How

Australia’s trade union movement has been at the forefront of many of the occupational health and safety (OHS) changes, especially workplace stress and bullying. Other than Industrial Manslaughter laws, its most recent campaign targeted to a workplace hazard has revolved around work-related gendered violence. Last week WorkSafe Victoria released a guide to employers on “work-related gendered violence including sexual harassment”. The advice in this guide is good but does not go far enough and is less helpful than it could have been.

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Froth and bubble replaced with sensible discussion

A recent court case over workers’ compensation gained a great deal of media attention in Australia because the case related to the employment status of a contestant on a reality television show. (Outside of workplace deaths the last media occupational health and safety (OHS) frenzy concerns a public servant being injured during sex.) Commentators left and right were both chuckling at the latest court decision and being alarmist about it setting a precedent. Finally a newspaper and online article has spoken of the case sensibly.

Nicole Prince, an OHS professional, competed in a reality program about house renovations. She and her partner were portrayed on the show as the nasty couple, a role that most reality TV shows look for and/or create. After leaving the show, Prince argued that she could be considered an employee of the broadcaster, Channel 7, and so was entitled to workers compensation for the psychological distress that resulted from her treatment by Channel 7, and especially on social media.

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Scientific Meeting challenges

There is a difference between a conference and a scientific meeting. The latter, like the current meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM), provides evidence.  The former tries to provide evidence but is often “infiltrated” by salespeople or the evidence is of a lesser quality.  Both are avenues for gaining information and sometimes the gaining of wisdom.

Day 1 of ANZSOM’s annual scientific meeting was heavy on overhead slides, graphs, Venn diagrams, flowcharts and at least two appearances of photos of Donald Rumsfeld!  There was a curious thread in several presentations – the role of non-occupational factors on workplace hazards and interventions.  This bordered on a discussion of political science and its relevance to occupational health and safety (OHS).  It was a discussion that is rarely heard outside of the basement of the Trades Halls and the challenging questions from die-hard communists and unionists, but it was an important one.  Some time soon we deserve a one-day seminar on the politics of workplace health and safety so that we can better understand what we mean by the lack of political will when we whinge about the slow pace of change. (There will be more on this theme in the exclusive interview with Professors Maureen Dollard and Sally Ferguson soon)

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