Suicide prevention needs more than business as usual

That suicide is related to workplace mental health pressures and illnesses is undisputed, but the more independent analysis on the topic, the more complex the causes become. Sometimes, suicide can be a conscious decision, still due to socioeconomic factors but factors that are not necessarily diagnosed or treated with mental health conditions.

[This article discusses suicide risks]

This reality complicates, and should complicate, strategies for the prevention of suicide. Recently, Australia’s National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) submitted its pre-budget wishlist to the government. This submission included action on suicide and mental health but in traditional ways.

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Understanding Grief

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has always dealt with death. Many of the most significant legislative and operational changes have resulted from one or more work-related deaths. The horror and tragedy of each death cause us to redouble our efforts to prevent untimely death.

The reality of occupational deaths and the quest to prevent death are crucial elements of OHS’s beliefs, philosophy and principles. Each of these deaths generates grief, an emotional and mental state that an Australian book explores from the “lived experience”.

Life After is a curious book published in 2021.

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A call to arms on OHS

In early January 2024, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a commentary by Professor Alex Collie that illustrates the need to broaden our consideration of “traditional” and psychosocial hazards and well-being at work. The article is paywalled but worth obtaining a copy.

Collie‘s research is always interesting, and being published in the BMJ adds some clout to this call for activism.

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“Backbone of the Nation” and safety

In 1984 I was in England during the miners’ strike, a period of profound social and political change in the United Kingdom. The politics of that period have always fascinated me, but my profession has also caused me to look at some of the attitudes to occupational health and safety (OHS). While holidaying recently in the UK, I purchased Backbone of the Nation, looking at both the politics and safety.

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The normalisation of quad bike safety

Segway has made a push into the Australian quad bike market, helping to fill the gap left by some vehicle manufacturers who would not accept safety improvements to their quad bikes. Prominent Australian agricultural newspaper, The Weekly Times, reviewed the latest Segway quad bike models. Rider safety was not mentioned specifically in the review, but it was visibly present in the accompanying image and reinforced by Segway’s video media relelase.

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Can we laugh at workplace health and safety?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has never had a profile as high as that of the environmental protection movement. OHS has never had a single, focused advocate like Greenpeace to make it visible. OHS activists do not hang banners off Tower Bridge or throw eggs at politicians (yet). One of the characteristics shared by OHS and environmentalists is the lack of comedy. An existential crisis like climate change is hard to laugh about, just as workers are dying, but some would argue that such black comedy could be productive and promotional. A recent show on the BBC World Service, The Climate Question, looked at environmental humour, but there are OHS parallels.

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Moral distress = moral injury = workplace mental ill-health = burnout.

On December 29 2023, The Guardian newspaper’s cover story was about doctors in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service experiencing high rates of “moral distress”. It is common for hospitals and health care services to consider themselves as workplaces with unique hazards rather than suffering similar occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges to all other workplaces. What makes the OHS challenge so significant in the NHS is the size of the challenge rather than its nature or cause.

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