Another burnout book from the US that ignores OHS duties

Advisory books about how to manage Burnout continue to be published. Another one that, due to the format and publisher, could be influential is Burnout for Dummies by Eva Selhub. Sadly, Selhub consciously downplays the occupational health and safety (OHS) role in preventing Burnout. Her choice sidelines OHS, the organisational context and the employer’s duty of care, but that seems typical for Burnout authors from the United States.

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Organisational and self-help advice on burnout

One of the best books about burnout is Jennifer Moss‘ “The Burnout Epidemic“, which this blog wrote about in April last year. A recent book on burnout and self-help caused me to revisit Moss’ book, and one of the chapters that I missed last year seems to explain the popularity of the self-help approach.

Moss writes about the organisational and structural workplace factors that create and perpetuate workplace stress and related poor mental health. However, one of the last chapters is titled “Take Care of Yourself, Too”. Moss writes:

“Self-care won’t fix broken organizational systems, but it’s the part we can control in a world full of the uncontrollable.”

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Addendum: Chris Smith and the prevention of harm

The earlier Chris Smith article mentioned the earlier incidents that, given his recidivism, the control measures implemented failed or were inadequate. If these incidents had involved occupational health and safety (OHS) concepts and investigations, the latest incident may never have occurred.

OHS is big on investigations and contributory factors but usually after an incident. OHS tends to identify faults and failures after the event. However, this has become the norm because OHS and employers are less able or interested in investigating incidents with lesser consequences or what OHS call Near Misses. Chris Smith had no near misses, each of the earlier “misbehaviours’ were incidents that seem not to have been investigated to the standard or depth intended in OHS.

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How could OHS have helped manage Chris Smith?

SkyNews and radio host, Chris Smith, has been dismissed due to inappropriate behaviour at a company Christmas party. This type of behaviour has been on the occupational health and safety (OHS) and Industrial Relations radar for a long, long time. Recently the psychological impacts of this type of behaviour have come to the fore, placing the issue clearly in the OHS realm.

It is useful to look at the Chris Smith saga through the “new” OHS perspective.

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HR, welcome to the OHS world and start getting used to it

In an article on burnout in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on December 10 2022 (paywalled), there was a peculiar quote and some paraphrasing of Sarah McCann, chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), indicating the size of the challenges facing human resources professionals in preventing psychosocial harm in Australian workplaces.

The article is a peculiar one. It states that burnout has been categorised as an occupational risk by the World Health Organisation but then reports on psychological support organisations who are applying the concept outside of work activities. The justification for this is that the work undertaken at home or in caring for a family is unpaid work but still work, so the occupational definition applies. That’s a stretch, but it’s possible.

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Engineering controls are possible, and they save lives

The issue of quad bike safety has largely disappeared from the mainstream media. This is largely due to the decline in opposition to installing Crush Protection Devices (CPD) on newly-purchased quad bikes in line with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) mandated safety standards. On November 24 2022, the ACCC released statistics that showed the success of applying an Engineering Control (the CPDs) favoured by the safety advocates over the Administrative Controls (training, signage and dynamic riding) favoured by the manufacturers and their lobbyists.

The quad bike safety saga in Australia, in particular, is a textbook study of farm politics, globalisation, belligerence, the ownership of evidence, the macho culture of independence, manipulation of consumers, ineffective politics, ineffective occupational health and safety (OHS) arguments, the power of money and more. (There’s an important book challenge to anyone who has the time and the resources)

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More OHS activists needed

The Australian Government is set to introduce new workplace sexual harassment laws and obligations through Parliament. In The Saturday Paper on November 5 2022 (paywalled), businesswoman Lucy Hughes Turnbull wrote a short article that reminds us of the purpose of the new laws.

“The whole idea of the Me Too movement and the Respect@Work report was to make workers safer. So it was surprising that the politicians who resisted some of the Jenkins recommendations are often the ones most willing to drape themselves in worker safety gear. Protection from abuse and harassment is another key aspect of safety, like guardrails and fire exit signs. Now the legal system recognises it as such.
This latest work safety bill is the best gift the parliament could give to mark the fifth anniversary of the global Me Too movement. Together with more paid parental leave and greater access to more affordable childcare, it has been a great few weeks for women and indeed all Australians.”

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