Federal Safety Commission embraces mental health

The Office of the Federal Safety Commission is a weird beast.  It originated from Royal Commission in the Building and Construction Industry which many at the time and since saw as a politically motivated exercise.  But whereas the Australian Building and Construction Commission which also originated in the Royal Commission, is mired in political and media back and forth, the OFSC has remained relatively clean.  This may illustrate the difficulty of arguing against workplace health and safety even when the Commission has a fair bit of safety clutter.

Recently the OFSC joined the workplace mental health movement, a legitimate occupational health and safety element.  It will offer little that is new, but the results of its November 2021 member survey do provide a useful insight into the major construction projects and contractors.

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On psychosocial hazards, HR and OHS are getting closer……. slowly

In narrow terms, the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession has largely neglected the management of psychological harm in workplaces. Human Resources (HR) has been the “go-to” on this issue, but various government inquiries have identified major shortcomings in the HR approach. In a recent podcast, Tony Morris of law firm Ashurst interviewed an HR and OHS professional on sexual harassment and psychosocial risks at work.

In response to the question of whether these risks are no being accepted as work health and safety risks, Julia Sutherland responded that this reality has been accepted by OHS regulators but implies that the acceptance has not been to the same extent by employers. She reassures employers who have not been approaching these hazards through OHS laws and guidance that they should not be alarmed as the OHS context has only existed for “a couple of years”.

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Another attack and death of a remote area nurse

In 2008 a remote area nurse was raped and assaulted in her work-related residence in Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait. More recently, South Australia had a similar incident – the rape and murder of nurse Gayle Woodford while working on-call alone. Both have resulted in inquiries by Coroners, Departments of Health and others, with similar outcomes, primarily that these incidents could have been prevented.

The recent outrage around Woodford’s death was that SafeWorkSA investigated and decided not to proceed with a prosecution of her employer Nganampa Health Council (NHC). The Coroner had already investigated Woodford’s death and found significant deficiencies in the NHC’s management systems and practices. Understandably questions have been asked in the South Australian Parliament, questions that raise important occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.

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Cooperation, duty of care, jail, death and a simple message

The details of the death of disabled woman Ann Marie Smith are horrific. (Readers can look them up online but be warned that they are confronting) Last week the South Australian police (SAPol) charged two directors of Integrity Care SA, Amy June Collins and Alison Maree Virgo, and the company itself with criminal neglect causing death and failing to comply with a health and safety duty of care, according to one media report.

There are many occupational health and safety (OHS) lessons from Smith’s death, but one of particular note is that the South Australian Police and SafeWorkSA conducted a joint investigation. Deputy Commissioner of Police Linda Williams said, in a media release:

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Does OHS research have a Left and a Right?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has had an uneasy ride in political debates in Australia, often because there is a disturbing morality in laws that dictate an employer has responsibility for the safety and health of their workers, even if legal wriggle room is allowed. There is no written history of OHS in Australia except within the confines of Industrial Relations, if it gets mentioned at all.

Recently I engaged in a conversation with a professional colleague on LinkedIn (I know, didn’t your Mother always say not to engage with people on social media? Well, this is a blog so….). That colleague made some odd political statements.

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Australia’s Wellbeing Budget and Living Standards Framework is on its way

Australia’s new Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, shows an awareness of the importance of good mental health in Australia’s citizens and workers but his strategy, which remains in its infancy, has some problems.

In one of Chalmers’ first interviews after the Australian Labor Party won power last month, he was asked about the Budget he will be releasing in October 2022 (the same month as National Safe Work Month!):

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Safety (funding) differently

When Tony Abbott was the (Liberal) Prime Minister, he reduced the commonwealth grants program substantially as part of his austerity and “debt” and deficit” strategies. This resulted in defunding many occupational health and safety (OHS) support and research units of trade unions, industry associations, etc. OHS has been poorly served ever since. The new (Labor) government has an opportunity to resurrect some of these OHS units by allocating some level of funding and, perhaps, expanding it beyond the traditional consultation triumvirate.

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