The unmentioned OHS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) people know how to fix most hazards at work but often have very little power and insufficient influence to apply the fix. That is why OHS people need to read the business sections of major newspapers and mainstream media business websites. It is there that the executives and corporate leaders discuss OHS changes, even if they never say “workplace health and safety”. An article in last weekend’s The Guardian provides a good example.

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We know how to prevent burnout but we have little desire to change

Probono Australia is reporting that employee burnout is on the rise. Burnout is increasingly being used as an alternative term for mental ill-health or stress at work. The report on which the writer based their article is not surprising, but the recommendations are. The subheading for the article is:

““Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout.”

But the article also pulls together other workplace mental health factors:

“The rise of digitisation has brought with it a need to  ‘always be on’ and, with that, employee work-life balance has become harder to maintain. It was this type of ‘24/7 access to employees’ thinking, the study found, that led to burnout.”

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Blaming others after a cock-up

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a long relationship with Blame. Blame has a long association with Responsibility. In the Australian Financial Review on January 19, 2022, Andrew Hill of the Financial Times wrote about both in relation to Novak Djokovic’s actions that led to his deportation.

Djokovic said that one of his administrative team completed his travel declaration incorrectly.

“…. my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box.”

Hill states that regardless of who completes paperwork on your behalf, you are responsible for the document as it is your document that you are submitting. You are responsible for the document and ensuring that the document is correct.

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Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws continue to be relevant even when operating in a time of a highly infectious pandemic, but they are increasingly sidelined.

At the moment there are labour shortages in Australia because of the large number of workers infected, and affected, by the Omicron variant of COVID-19; a shortage exacerbated by the varying isolation and testing regimes applied by the Federal and State governments. It is a bit of a mess.

It is worth reminding ourselves that employers have a duty to proved a safe and healthy work environment with the support of employees. Employees are obliged to not allow hazards to be brought to work. At the moment, some employees are being encouraged or required to return to work if they are showing no COVID-19 symptoms; if they are asymptomatic. But everyone knows from experience and official advice over the last two years that asymptomatic people can continue to be infectious. Requiring workers to return to work, as seemed to be happening at one South Australian worksite, while still potentially infectious seems contrary to both the employer’s and employee’s OHS obligations.

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Increased OHS accountability sought

The political strategy of Ken Phillips of Self Employed Australia (formerly of the Independent Contractors of Australia) received a boost in The Age newspaper on December 12 2021, in an article headlined “Group to mount legal challenge to force prosecution of Premier over hotel quarantine disaster” online (paywalled) or “Business owners seek prosecution of Andrews over hotel quarantine” in the print version.

Phillips uses a section of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act to make a political point about accountability. Previously, Phillips, his usual mainstream media contact Robert Gottliebsen, and others have called for Premier Daniel Andrews to be charged with Industrial Manslaughter (IM) over the deaths of over 800 people linked to a COVID-19 outbreak from the failure of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program. (The recent non-hotel outbreak is around 597 deaths)

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Banyan Health Group responds

Earlier this week, I paused an article on corporate burnout which used a media release from the Banyan Health Group as the catalyst. The group chose not to respond to some challenging questions but later reversed their position. Below are the responses of Ruth Limkin – CEO of The Banyans Healthcare Group to those questions. I thank Ruth and her team for their support

SAWB: The media release mentions chronic stress risk factors of “increased absenteeism, disconnected employee relationships, heavy workload and tight deadlines” and “longer hours”.  The World Health Organisation has written that “Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life”. What can an executive manager do to reduce or eliminate these factors and thereby reduce the need for personal psychological interventions? Should the businesses change the way they do business and change the expectations that they place on executives?

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Corporate burnout and expecting too much

The Banyan Health Group issued a media release about company executives experiencing burnout in support of Psychology Week. I put some questions to the Group’s media contact from the occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective. The contact said that the Banyan Health Group members did not think they were best placed to answer the questions. [They have since chosen to respond and that supplementary article is available HERE]

That’s perhaps understandable, but we know that work-related mental health problems require a multi-disciplinary response involving personal and structural interventions as individual, social, and organisation factors contribute to poor mental health, of which burnout is part. Organisations that put themselves out there as subject matter experts and corporate workplace service providers to business should be able to respond to challenging questions. Below are statements from Banyan’s media pack and my questions.

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