When Work Kills – new research on workplace suicides

There are many advocates of the importance of a mental health and wellbeing in workplaces.  But few of them address the worst-case scenario for workplace mental health of work-related suicides.  In some cases, the mental health advocates are overly cautious about even speaking the reality, which does not help reduce mental health stigma.

In 2016 Professor Stewart Clegg, of UTS Business School said that

“That work can kill the will to live is a fundamental ethical problem that we must attend to…”

New research from the UK provides a useful summary of the work-related and workplace suicides in Europe with important lessons of where precarious employment and the “gig economy” could lead.

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When is a workplace, not a workplace

(Not Reedy Flat)

On 20 February 2017, WorkSafe Victoria issued a media statement about several recent fatalities.  Below is the first couple of paragraphs with some highlighted text:

“Two men were killed and another suffered critical head injuries in three separate incidents at the weekend.
On Saturday, a man in his late 30s died when his quad bike overturned on a property at Reedy Flat, near Ensay, in east Gippsland. It has not yet been determined if the property is a workplace or a hobby farm.” (emphasis added)

Why was the status of the farm mentioned and how is this relevant?

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Is the Deepwater Horizon movie good for safety?

This week Australia has been experiencing a safety roadshow built around the Deepwater Horizon movie and two guest speakers. The afternoon sessions have been well attended and the discussion fruitful but does the film improve the viewers’ understanding of safety or misrepresent it?

Continue reading “Is the Deepwater Horizon movie good for safety?”

“Every death is manslaughter”

The South Australian Branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) held a protest rally in Adelaide on 15 February 2017 in response to the political negotiations in Australia’s Parliament about the reintroduction of, what the union sees as, anti-union legislation.  Throughout the rally’s presentations (available online through the CFMEU Facebook page), the issue of occupational health and safety (OHS) was raised and it is worth looking closely at what was said and the broader political and safety context.

The issues to be addressed in the protest rally included Senator Nick Xenophon’s “deal” with Prime Minister Turnbull that the CFMEU claims will:

  • ” Make our workplaces less safe
  • Put more overseas visa workers on our building sites
  •  Cut the number of apprentices in South Australia
  •  Threaten job security and increase casual jobs
  •  Fail to mandate Australian made products on construction sites”

After Joe McDonald opened the rally, the Secretary of the CFMEU SA, Aaron Cartledge (pictured above), spoke about how workers in South Australia had been dudded on safety because the health and safety representatives (HSRs) cannot call on external safety advisers to help them with an OHS matter.  This may be the case but Cartledge’s comments illustrate a common perspective of trade unionists – a reluctance to consider safety management strategies other than those dependent on HSRs.

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Union may have overstepped and weakened its case

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is one of the most militant trade unions in Australia.  That it angers many Australians by its strong support for its members is unarguable.  Yet recently it has seemed to overstep the mark on its protest against the Australian Government’s introduction of legislation that the CFMEU sees…

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Outsourcing inductions may not support good safety management

new_young_induction-pdf_extract_page_1SafetyAtWorkBlog has been critical of the use and sale of generic Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) for work tasks that can be managed through simpler and freely available job safety analyses (JSAs) and face-to-face communication. On 27 January 2017, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia (CCI) launched generic inductions.

The CCI asks and answers, in its media release:

“So why is it that so many workplaces don’t provide an induction? Our Members are telling us that they don’t really know what information they should be giving to a new starter.”

An internet search of the WorkSafeWA website would have led one to its “

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Firefighters’ mental health

More details are appearing of the findings of an independent inquiry into mental health and suicides in the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), a report whose release has been stalled by the United Firefighters’ Union (UFU).

cover-bullying-health-sectorAccording to the inquiry’s chair, in an article in the ABC news website, Dr Peter Cotton,

“…the MFB has a mono-culture with few women or members from diverse backgrounds, making it difficult to assess the level of bullying and harassment.”

“… the MFB does not screen for alcohol or drug use, and has a lack of policies and procedures to address drug and alcohol issues.”

“Management’s handling of complaints were found to be ad hoc and inconsistent with a “lack of will to follow up” and “give them a wide berth” thought pattern.”

“the mental health of firefighters was comparable with Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria,…”

The latter point is useful to remember as a similar report into the Victoria Police was released earlier this year. The most recent inquiry into Ambulance Victoria was undertaken by the Victorian Auditor-General in 2016. Continue reading “Firefighters’ mental health”

Work-related suicides in another militarily-structured organisation

Australia’s emergency services have had several reviews into accusations of workplace bullying, harassment, mental health or suicides. Melbourne’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) is the latest to undergo this type of review but the United Firefighters Union (UFU) is not happy about the release of the final report, which was due out today.  If the final report is consistent, a dysfunctional safety culture will be found.

According to a report in the ABC news website, the review was

“…headed by clinical psychologist Dr Peter Cotton, who wrote a similar report for Victoria Police.” [link added]

SafetyAtWorkBlog readers may recall that an earlier article on psychologically healthy workplaces included this mention of Dr Cotton

“[Dr Chris] Stevens is not blind to the shortcomings of some of the trends in the area of psychologically healthy workplaces. He agreed that the modern workplaces and workers are subject to over-diagnosis of mental health issues and paraphrased some of the work of Dr Peter Cotton who estimated around 30% of workers compensation claims for psychological injury relate to low morale and not psychiatric diagnosis.”

Continue reading “Work-related suicides in another militarily-structured organisation”

Not all deaths are “newsworthy” but they are all important

As Australia’s Safe Work Month closes, the media is focussed on the four fatalities at Dreamworld theme park in Queensland.  That situation is complicated as, although the incident is being investigated partly under Work Health and Safety laws, the decedents were visitors to the workplace. On the other side of the continent in Perth, prior…

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Early speculation and reporting on theme park deaths is unhelpful

Late yesterday four adults were killed on the Thunder River Rapids ride at the Dreamworld theme park in Queensland Australia. Investigations are ongoing and it was only recently that the names of some of the victims were released.  The first few days after any fatality are confusing as new information is uncovered, old concerns are voiced and our sympathies for the dead expressed.  However there are usually some comments that are unhelpful, and this morning was no exception.

ABC Radio’s AM program led with a report called “Union expresses concerns to Queensland safety regulator about Dreamworld rides”. In the report Ben Swan, Queensland Secretary of the Australian Workers Union says that the union raised safety and maintenance concerns with the company running DreamWorld, Ardent Leisure Group, earlier this year. Swan said that the concerns involved maintenance regimes and equipment but did not specify that Thunder River Rapids was part of those concerns.

Swan was at pains to not distract people from the incident investigation yet his readiness to be interviewed did just that. The union could have made its point about past safety concerns by pledging to cooperate with official investigations by the Coroner and Work Health and Safety Queensland.

Lawyer, Sugath Wijedoru was interviewed by AM over an incident at the theme park in April 2016 that involved his client. The incident involved a different ride and different circumstances.

Swan’s and Wijedoru’s comments and the structure of the AM report, imply that there was a systemic OHS problem with the theme park’s administration but how does this help the investigation less than a day after the deaths? Does this add to the grief and trauma of the relatives who have only just been informed of the deaths, or provide comfort?  DreamWorld may have systemic safety management problems but identifying this is the role of the investigators.

The information that Swan, Wijedoru and others have about the Thunder River Rapids ride and Dream World’s OHS practices generally is sure to be of interest to the investigators, regulators and Courts but did they need to comment within 24 hours of the tragedies? Who did this help?

The report also end with the reporter Katherine Gregory reminding the listener that

“there is no national regulator for theme parks in Australia. Instead it is managed by each jurisdiction.”

The implication is that there should be one. Why? The only National OHS regulator Australia has is Comcare and that only covers a selection of workplaces and industries. The fact is that Australia has no national regulator of workplace safety in the manner of other countries.  OHS is almost always dealt with by the States which makes the concluding comments curious and unnecessary.

Mainstream media feels the need to report news and the deaths of four people on an amusement ride is certainly news but does it need to encourage speculation about incident causes at the time that the company is trying to work out what happened and address the concerns of its workers, various investigators are only just getting the level of access to the scene they need, and relatives are finding out why some of their family are not coming home?

Kevin Jones