Occupational health and safety (OHS) people know how to fix most hazards at work but often have very little power and insufficient influence to apply the fix. That is why OHS people need to read the business sections of major newspapers and mainstream media business websites. It is there that the executives and corporate leaders discuss OHS changes, even if they never say “workplace health and safety”. An article in last weekend’s The Guardian provides a good example.
Probono Australia is reporting that employee burnout is on the rise. Burnout is increasingly being used as an alternative term for mental ill-health or stress at work. The report on which the writer based their article is not surprising, but the recommendations are. The subheading for the article is:
““Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout.”
But the article also pulls together other workplace mental health factors:
“The rise of digitisation has brought with it a need to ‘always be on’ and, with that, employee work-life balance has become harder to maintain. It was this type of ‘24/7 access to employees’ thinking, the study found, that led to burnout.”
Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a long relationship with Blame. Blame has a long association with Responsibility. In the Australian Financial Review on January 19, 2022, Andrew Hill of the Financial Times wrote about both in relation to Novak Djokovic’s actions that led to his deportation.
Djokovic said that one of his administrative team completed his travel declaration incorrectly.
“…. my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box.”
Hill states that regardless of who completes paperwork on your behalf, you are responsible for the document as it is your document that you are submitting. You are responsible for the document and ensuring that the document is correct.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws continue to be relevant even when operating in a time of a highly infectious pandemic, but they are increasingly sidelined.
At the moment there are labour shortages in Australia because of the large number of workers infected, and affected, by the Omicron variant of COVID-19; a shortage exacerbated by the varying isolation and testing regimes applied by the Federal and State governments. It is a bit of a mess.
It is worth reminding ourselves that employers have a duty to proved a safe and healthy work environment with the support of employees. Employees are obliged to not allow hazards to be brought to work. At the moment, some employees are being encouraged or required to return to work if they are showing no COVID-19 symptoms; if they are asymptomatic. But everyone knows from experience and official advice over the last two years that asymptomatic people can continue to be infectious. Requiring workers to return to work, as seemed to be happening at one South Australian worksite, while still potentially infectious seems contrary to both the employer’s and employee’s OHS obligations.
Unsurprising from a global business magazine, The Economist’s special report on January 15 2002 (paywalled*) bemoaned the new “enthusiasm for regulation”. It clearly includes occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and Australia in its consideration but stops short of asking why this new enthusiasm exists.
Many regulations, especially in OHS, are proposed and introduced to address a wrong or misbehaviour or a new hazard. A major catalyst for Lord Robens‘ OHS laws in the 1970s stemmed from industrial deaths, especially those of the public. The pattern of deaths as a catalyst for change continues today with the Industrial Manslaughter laws, for instance. Another catalyst is new cultural sensitivities; what was tolerated previously is no longer acceptable.
The workplace bullying changes late last century in Australia is a good example, but this also ties in with unacceptable levels of harm. Bullying was often part of the initiation to work and seemed acceptable until workers were severely injured and traumatised, and people found out about it.
Every political leader on the progressive side, or Left, of politics, must address their relationship to Socialism. Recently The Guardian discussed this concerning the UK Labour leader Keir Starmer but the topic has relevance to Australia as several elections are scheduled for 2022. It is also important in understanding the ideological base of these prospective leaders as it is from this that progress on occupational health and safety (OHS) will emerge.
In a recent book “Sedated: How Modern Capitalism Created Our Mental Health Crisis“, UK academic Dr James Davies provides a valuable first-hand experience of the denial, or avoidance, of social obligations and the transference of responsibility to individuals in the context of Mental Health First Aid.
The traditional manner for employers to get unsavoury or hazardous work tasks done is to offer more money. This is referred to as Danger Money in some countries and Hazard Pay in others. There has been a resurgence in Danger Money during the COVID-19 pandemic, offered by some employers and requested by some workers and unions. This negotiation is a collaborative avoidance of both groups’ occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations and should be opposed vigorously by OHS associations and advocates.