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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HR and OHS need to be playmates now more than ever

One of the fascinating elements of this year’s National Comcare conference is the conflict between the Human Resources (HR) approach to occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation, and the OHS approach to psychosocial hazards.  This is not the fault of Comcare as the audience is a peculiar mix of both professions.

The difference was on display when some presenters focused on the post-incident care and, almost entirely, on interventions on the individual.  Other presenters focused on the prevention of physical and psychological injuries – the OHS approach.  The former seemed warmly embraced by the HR professionals.  There were other speakers, or parts of their presentations, where prevention was almost mentioned as an afterthought and even then omitting references to their organisation’s own OHS publications.

There has always been a structural and ideological separation of the professions

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OHS outcomes of ACTU Congress 2018

Below is the list of occupational health and safety (OHS) issues for the next three years, put to the Australian Council of Trade Unions and passed, at its Congress on 18 July 2018.  Some were expected but others will cause concern, primarily, for business owners.  Perhaps the major concern is that these commitments are to be rolled out nationally.

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Australian Workplace Safety Bureau

There seems to be a growing community frustration with regulators who hesitate to prosecute about breaches of laws, including occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, and about options that sound reasonable, like Enforceable Undertakings, but still let businesses “off the hook”.  The calls for Industrial Manslaughter laws are the most obvious manifestations of the anger and frustration from perceived injustices.

But perhaps there was another way to achieve change in workplace safety, a way that could be based on a model that Australia and other countries already have.

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