Different OHS messages to different audiences

Last week, WorkSafe Victoria held its annual Business Leaders’ Breakfast. The keynote speaker was Karen Maher, who spoke about the need for an effective and respectful workplace culture that would foster a healthy psychosocial environment. Her presentation would have been familiar to many of the occupational health and safety (OHS) and WorkSafe personnel in the audience, but it may have been revolutionary for any business leaders. Maher outlined the need for change but not necessarily how to change or the barriers to change.

The event did provide a useful Q&A session and afforded the new WorkSafe Victoria CEO, Joe Calafiore, his second public speaking event in a week.

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The Spiritualism of HR

“Trust us” is one of the riskiest phrases anyone can use. It may be even riskier to accept it. In workplaces, it is often the start of a relationship, but it can also be the start of betrayal. Part of the risk in starting any new job is that new employees must accept their introductions in good faith, and most introductions are handled by the Human Resources department but is that faith misplaced? Recently, one socialist journal from the United States (yes, the US has a socialist sub-culture …. for the moment), Jacobin, included an article about HR in its religion-themed edition (paywalled).

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Is HR the problem or the solution?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals often report to the Human Resources (HR) manager. This makes sense to those who create organisational and reporting structures, but it also implies that OHS is a subset of HR and that worker health and safety is a subsidiary of personnel management. OHS and HR have a tense relationship in workplaces and professionally, but modern work presents hazards and injuries that need a coordinated response.

To reach that point of cooperation, understanding, mutual respect, and the sharing of power, we need to try to understand what HR does.

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Is Business really a punching bag?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) cannot afford to be anti-business. No business = no jobs = no need for OHS. And business groups should not be anti-OHS, yet it often feels that they are. A recent opinion piece by Bran Black of the Business Council of Australia argues that the success of businesses in Australia is central the economy. This is typical of the type of articles that appear in the business-friendly media as part of “soft” lobbying of the federal government prior to the May Budget.

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An economics perspective on overwork

As Ingrid Robeyns’ Limitarianism book hits the Australian bookshops, an earlier examination of the role of excessive profits of “affluenza” from 2005 is worth considering. How does this relate to occupational health and safety (OHS)? The prevention of harm and the reduction of risk are determined by employers deciding on what they are prepared to spend on their workers’ safety, health, and welfare. Employers are looking desperately for effective ways to meet their new psychosocial harm prevention duties. Economists identified strategies in 2005.

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Mental Health First Aid is not a harm prevention strategy

Courses in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) are increasingly popular in Australia as employers struggle to understand their (new) occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations to provide psychologically safe and healthy work environments. However, MHFA and OHS are fundamentally incompatible.

MHFA is an intervention program, while OHS requires prevention. So, employers who send staff to MHFA intending to comply with their OHS obligations are deluded.

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“10 to 15% of suicides in the working population are attributable to work”

Job strain, job stress, and psychosocial hazards at work have become mainstream if a major public broadcaster produces radio programs and podcasts about them.

On March 15, 2024, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s This Working Life program interviewed Australian experts on job strain. The program offered the latest thinking on the prevalence of this hazard and what to do to prevent it.

Note: This article mentions work-related suicide.

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