Firefighting, WorkCover and OHS

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia – 2011 July 10: Fire fighters supporting colleague on roof gaining access to a garage on fire in an residential area.

Some years ago there was a rumour that no workers’ compensation claims by firefighters employed by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) were investigated and/or rejected by the MFB. The reason was that the United Firefighters’ Union would question any investigation on behalf of its members which would likely result in increased industrial relations tension.

Workers compensation data obtained by SafetyAtWorkBlog from the MFB under Freedom of Information seems to have scotched that rumour but does provide some interesting information which may also justify radical workplace health and safety thinking for this sector.

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Is workers’ compensation less important than other insurances?

In late July 2018, the Victorian Auditor-General Office (VAGO) released a report into the insurance risks of several Victorian local councils.  It is reasonable to expect the costs of workers’ compensation insurance to be addressed in the report but this was not the case.  Although it is clearly an insurance product, the Auditor-General excluded workers’ compensation insurance.  This position continues to sideline workers’ compensation implying to Victorian Councils, if not businesses, that it is less important than other business insurances.

The best example of this implication is found on page 48 of the report in a graph

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New inquiry into sexual harassment – an OHS opportunity and challenge

On June 20 2018, the Australian government announced a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, claiming it to be a world-first. Sexual harassment is not an occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard in many ways BUT the psychological harm it can create is. The job of an OHS person is to encourage employers to reduce work-related harm through prevention, so we need to prevent sexual harassment, just as we do for all the work activities that contribute to poor psychological health and safety.

The macroeconomic costs of sexual harassment in the workplace may be of interest to politicians and business lobbyists but this can be a significant distraction from identifying ways to prevent psychological harm, which should be the most important legacy of this type of inquiry.

Addressing the OHS impacts of

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The data for workplace mental health exists, if we demand it

Data about occupational health and safety (OHS) and work-related psychosocial injuries has often been described as being hard to find.  In some ways it is not necessarily hard to find but difficult to access.  An untapped source of data is the records of illness and leave taken that is usually held by the Human Resources (HR) departments, often named “People and Culture”or some variant.  This type of data could be invaluable in determining a workplace psychological profile, if the HR departments would trust OHS professionals more, or release this data in a format that would allow OHS professionals to assess risks while maintaining employees’ privacy.

Beware, Generalisations Ahead

In Australia, employees are usually entitled to ten days’ sick leave, five of which require a medical certificate.  This means that one of the forty-eight expected working weeks may be taken off by workers with no reason provided to the employer other than a call or a text saying “I’m not coming into work today because I am not feeling well.”  Australian slang describes this as “chucking a sickie”.  

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Michalak’s evidence should change the wellbeing and OHS industries

Dr Rebecca Michalak has only recently come to my attention, mainly through challenging some of my statements on social media.  I was able to meet her and watch her presentation at the Safety Institute of Australia’s National Health and Safety Conference in May 2018.  It is likely her voice will become heard more broadly in coming years as she challenges elements of the Establishment.

Many elements of Michalak’s conference presentation can also be heard in the Fit For Work Podcast of Sally McMahon but there were a couple of statements that were notable.

Coping Strategies

“I had a theory that it’s not either/or – it’s an “it depends” thing and what I found across all well-being outcomes, six coping strategies and two samples – that’s 48 mediations – it makes no difference and in fact, most coping strategies make well-being worse.” (emphasis added)

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