Non-military safety lessons from the latest Royal Commission (open access)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast an episode of The Signal on April 21, 2021, which discussed the complexity of the culture of Australia’s military, and I strongly recommend you listen to it. It does make some points about culture worth contemplating in the context of one’s own workplace and profession.

The most useful point was that an established institution cannot have a uniform culture that meets the expectations of all relevant stakeholders. Generations take their culture with them. So those who started in the military in the 1980s and 1990s (and later) will bring the values and lessons of that time into their maturity and when they move into senior and leadership positions – positions that are intended to both preserve and progress the organisation’s culture. This will result in conflict between the expectations of new recruits and the realities of the established military executives. Not open revolt, but a dissatisfaction that may or may not result in leaving the organisation.

The topic used by The Signal to illustrate the extremes of the defence force members and stakeholders was mental health.

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The duty of care to “others”

In 2019 a man took his own life while being detained in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. At the time media reports said that the death was being referred to the appropriate authorities and the New South Wales Coroner.

On March 10, 2021, Comcare charged:

“The Department of Home Affairs and its healthcare provider (IHMS) ……with breaching Commonwealth work health and safety laws over the death of a man in immigration detention.”

Such an action against a government department under occupational health and safety (OHS) was always possible, as SafetyAtWorkBlog and others discussed in 2016.

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Now there is too much mental health information, and it’s like toothpaste

Australia is experiencing a boom in occupational health and safety (OHS) information about work-related psychological harm, including sexual harassment at work. This level of information is long overdue, but a consequence of this “boom” is that employers can be very confused about which information to use and which source they should trust or even what relates to their specific circumstances, especially after years of denying there is a problem.

Putting on my consultant hat, I would advise any State-based organisation to comply with the OHS guidances issued by that State’s OHS regulator. If a national company, look towards the guidance of Comcare or Safe Work Australia for the national perspective. The challenge is greater for companies that operate in multiple States, but these have been rumoured to be less than 10% of Australian businesses. If multi-State, they should be big enough to have the resources for OHS compliance.

However, some State-based mental initiatives have evolved into a national platform.

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Government responds to the mental health risks of emergency service workers

In 2018/19 one of Australia’s Senate Committees looked at the mental health of emergency responders. The final report was handed down in February 2019 and the government’s response has been released today, twelve months later (?!). Lucky the government delayed as it allowed the Response to mention the 2019/20 bushfires even though this was outside the timeline of the Committee’s inquiry.

Emergency Responders, as do frontline soldiers, face unique psychological risks from their duties, so there are some recommendations that are difficult for those outside the sector to relate to but looking at the Response gives an insight into the thinking about occupational health and safety (OHS), and especially workplace mental health risks, of the Australian government. That thinking may be summarised by the Government supporting only one of the fourteen recommendations, noting five of them and supporting “in principle” the rest.

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Chinese Whispers on drugs and alcohol at work

Evidence-based policy making needs make sure that the evidence is accurate and valid. Evidence is also the foundation of the state of knowledge of the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional, action and regulations. To achieve and sustain these aims and requirements, evidence needs to be questioned in order to verify it.

On July 17 2019 WorkSafe Victoria distributed an email newsletter which stated that

“… 15% of workplace injuries worldwide are caused by alcohol and drug use”

and referencing Comcare as its source. But that source says something significantly different.

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ALP’s National Platform and workplace safety

This Sunday SafetyAtWorkBlog will be reporting from the 2018 National Conference of the Australian Labor Party (ALP).  It promises to be extra lively as the country is only a few months away from a General Election and the ALP is tipped by most to win, or rather, the Liberal/National Coalition to lose.  The intention is to watch for discussion of issues that relate to, or affect, the management of worker health and safety.  There will be some, if one accepts that the most effective and sustainable occupational health and safety (OHS) solutions come from both a introduce multidisciplinary approach and that one that looks “at the source” of hazards.

The current draft National platform has a specific chapter on Safety At Work but the document is riddled with safety commitments.  Curiously there is no specific mention of Industrial Manslaughter, although the ALP will

“ensure there are strong deterrents for employers who are responsible for workplace deaths”.

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