Suicide prevention at Victoria’s Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System began the first of a couple of days focusing on suicide prevention by reminding the audience that there are three kinds of interventions:

  • Universal – population level wellness
  • Selective – those who have suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  • Indicated – those who are engaging in suicidal behaviour

Occupational health and safety (OHS) concerns about harm prevention overlap with each of these to some extent, but the approach with the most opportunity for the prevention of harm is likely to be in Universal intervention. SafetyAtWorkBlog looked for discussion of work-related harm and interventions in yesterday’s Public Hearings.

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Safety remains a muddle in Australia’s trucking industry

SafetyAtWorkBlog believes the fact that commercial vehicles are also workplaces remains under-utilised in Australia. There are hints that this position is shared by others and that the analysis of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the transport sector is maturing. An Issues Paper released in May 2019 by the Productivity Commission (PC) as party of the review of the 2009 National Transport Regulatory Reform program looks at potential safety outcomes.

In each of the sectors within the reform program – heavy vehicles, rail and maritime – safety improvements, enhancements and improvements were expected. The PC accepts the multidisciplinary and multi-factorial elements of OHS:

“…. the national laws and regulators are only one influence on safety outcomes. The multiplicity of influences on safety outcomes raises challenges for measurement of the contribution of the national system to any changes in safety outcomes since the system was introduced. The Commission envisages that the direct net benefits from safety related reforms must be assessed by the use of simple methods such as benchmarking (including to other countries) and other descriptive analyses. For example, Hassall (2014) estimates the accident rate (broken down by accident severity) per 100 million kilometres.”

page 12

(Given that the PC has a separate inquiry into mental health, it will be interesting to see if this perspective is consistent across different sectors)

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Bereaved families group demands changes

Documents related to the development and implementation of Industrial Manslaughter laws in Victoria and seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog say that the Department of Justice and Community Services will draft a policy paper on the laws prior to the proposed Industrial Manslaughter Bill being presented to Parliament in October or November. October’s Work Health and Safety Month promises to be lively this year.


Participants in the Workplace Fatalities and Serious Incidents Reference Group had expressed concerns about the phoenixing of companies after a workplace fatality and that workplaces where deaths have occurred should be treated as a crime scene that:

“…should not be operational until a full investigation is complete”

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The Victorian Government remains secretive on Industrial Manslaughter laws

Victoria’s Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Freedom of Information correspondence is headed:

“Information Integrity & Access”.

For the last few months SafetyAtWorkBlog has been chasing the Workplace Manslaughter Consultation Paper through official channels and been granted “two pages in full”, “four pages in part” and been refused access in full to most of the Consultation Report.  This decision (available here) is because

“These documents include information concerning opinion, advice or recommendation of an officer and the personal affairs of third parties, which cannot be disclosed [for reasons given in the letter]”.

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Hopefully prevention of mental injuries at work will emerge in this Royal Commission

LtoR: Professor Bernadette McSherry, Prof. Allan Fels, Penny Arnytage, Dr Alex Cockram

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.

According to the Commission’s transcript Chair Penny Armytage said on July 2, 2019:

“We start these hearings with a wide lens. Not in hospitals or clinics, but in our homes, our sporting fields and our workplaces.”

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