In early July 2019, my son and I braved a cold Melbourne Friday night to see our very first improvisational comedy show. The catalyst was a show called “F**k this, I Quit“, produced by the Improv Conspiracy, and which is based on the work experiences of the audience there on the night. I was one of around fifteen in the audience, in a room that only holds forty people, and so occupational health and safety (OHS) became a featured theme that night. I, and OHS, was roasted and it was definitely the funniest night of my professional life.
Several audience members were asked about their work experiences. I mentioned that I consulted in OHS, had provided advice to some of Victoria’s licenced brothels, had an uncomfortable conversation one time about discussing nipples while at work and that I thought the most dangerous workplace hazard was electricity as it was invisible and deadly.
For many years, the Australian medical has been supportive of a “Health Benefits of Good Work” (HBGW) initiative. This initiative, started in 2010, is directly relevant to how Australia is determining its mental health policy and strategies especially as they relate to workplaces. The initiative was developed by:
“…. the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP). This initiative is based on compelling Australasian and international evidence that good work is beneficial to people’s health and wellbeing and that long term work absence, work disability and unemployment generally have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.”
This initiative can be seen behind many of the public statements about the mental health status of the unemployed as this sits within the public health and the social welfare sectors, but it is rarely mentioned by those providing occupational health and safety (OHS) advice.
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SafetyAtWorkBlog’s initial approach to Justine Alter, Psychologist and co-director of Transitioning Well. on the prevention of Burnout illicited the following response. It deserved further exploration so Alter was sent a further set of questions leading to useful answers.
“Prevention strategies are considered to be the most effective approach for addressing workplace burnout, and there are a number of things that workers can do to minimise the risk:
– Recognise the importance of a work-life balance ensuring that you get some recovery time – Prioritise your time. Identify what is important, what can wait, and what can be delegated to others – Self-advocacy. This can be difficult, however thinking about the importance of your mental and emotional health may help you advocate better for yourself – Lead by example: utilise any flexible leave policies and opportunities that your company may provide – Remain aware of resources that are available through your workplace – EAP, counselling, etc. Consider making these resources available if they aren’t already.”
The first week of media coverage of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health is very thin on the roles and impacts of workplaces and work activities on people’s mental health, but it is part of the conversation.
The Public Hearings on July 4-5 had Prevention and Early Intervention as their theme. Prevention as occupational health and safety (OHS) people would apply was mostly absent. Prevention, in OHS terms, is usually about the elimination of a risk or hazard whereas the impression from the discussion in the Royal Commission over the last few days is that mental health is something that appears, strikes an individual (with ripples to relatives), is treated and a new psychological normal, a functional/social normal is established. Analysis of the social, occupational and environmental precursors, elements that OHS investigations are obliged to consider, seems missing, at the moment.
SafetyAtWorkBlog occasionally receives confidential documents and phone calls about workplace health and safety incidents, investigations and reports. It is time that this process was given some formality in order to encourage transparency on issues while, if necessary, preserving anonymity. To achieve this aim a “tip-off” line has been created by SafetyAtWorkBlog using the Whispli whistleblowing platform. The workplace health and safety information line was launched in March and will continue to be refined over the next few months.
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