Real men and work-related suicide

Recently Huffington Post Australia posted a video about male suicides called “Men are killing themselves to be real men”.  Many of the speakers talked about their experiences at work or with work.  The video is highly recommended.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to talk with the Associate Video Editor, Emily Verdouw. Below is an edited transcript.

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Trade unions offer alternative, more accurate(?) workplace death statistics

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) indirectly acknowledged the ILO theme for World Day for Safety and Health at Work in its media release for International Workers Memorial Day 2017.  The ILO was calling for more, and better, data on workplace injuries and illnesses.  VTHC questioned the official workplace fatality numbers issued by the government.  It stated:

“A VTHC analysis shows that in 2016-17 over 200 Victorians died as a direct result of Workplace injury or illness, although the government’s official tally for the year is just 26.”

This disparity needs to be discussed across jurisdictions because occupational health and safety (OHS) data has always been incomplete, a fact acknowledged by many government inquiries in Australia for many years.  

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What do we want from a workers’ memorial?

When anyone dies, it is important to remember them and their relatives as well as those we did not know personally but who also grieve.  Public recognition of deceased workers is a recent phenomenon, even though we have commemorated and noted industrial disasters for over a century.  Memorials have always provided a symbolic focus for our attention and grief with the hope that these memorials motivate people to reduce the chances of a workplace death occurring to others.

But worker memorials need to be carefully considered and designed to be inclusive as Death visits all workplaces regardless of the religion of the workers, their ethnicity, the location of the fatality or the workplace conditions.  On the eve of International Workers’ Memorial Day for 2017, it may be time to rethink the memorial to deceased workers in Melbourne, Victoria.

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Japanese depression contrasts the Western understanding of workplace mental health

frustrated young asian businessman

Australian workplace mental health advocates often seem to shy away from discussions of suicide, perhaps because suicides are not a regular occurrence at work or because work-related suicide remains stigmatised.  To better understand this overlap between suicide and mental health, and the working environment, it may be useful to look at the Japanese experience where work-related suicides, specifically karoshi, seems to have occurred before the appearance or recognition of mental ill-health and depression.

Recently the BBC released a series of broadcasts and podcasts looking at mental health issues.  The first episode discussed “Depression in Japan”.  The whole series Borders of Sanity will be of interest to mental health students and professionals but the Japanese episode reinforces that the recognition and treatment of depression is not the same around the world.  The appearance of depression in Japan is a very recent occurrence and shows the links between mental health and culture, particularly as it relates to the role of work, our place in work and our relationships with our bosses.

Japan has a unique approach to work and the relationships within work.  Some of the practices have been exported to other countries as we have seen in companies like Toyota but the perception of workload, diligence, commitment and loyalty has some echoes in Western workplaces.

Karoshi has been reported on in the West many times before, often as a peculiar quirk of the Orient but the recent BBC podcast is less about suicide and more about depression and mental health.  The West has a long tradition of psychoanalysis where stress, anxiety and depression have been defined, refined and integrated into our cultures.  This is still in its early stages in Japan and the full podcast is a fascinating counterpoint to the Western perception of workplace mental health.

Kevin Jones

Suicide Prevention Forum and Mental Health First Aid for workers

In March 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its latest figures into the causes of death. A lot of media attention was given to the figures showing an increase in the suicide rate.  It found that

“Among those aged 15 to 44, the leading causes of death were Intentional self-harm (suicide)…”

Dr Claire Kelly, Manager, Youth Programs, Mental Health First Aid Australia, talking at the Suicide Prevention Forum 2016
Dr Claire Kelly, Manager, Youth Programs, Mental Health First Aid Australia, talking at the Suicide Prevention Forum 2016

On the day those figures were released, the

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Extracting good from maps of death

Ever since I read the London Encyclopaedia during my honeymoon in England, I have waited for a similar encyclopaedia based on workplace safety. However, the world has changed since then and such an encyclopaedia would most likely to be created as an app.

The London Encyclopaedia is indexed by places, streets and addresses, and so should a “Safety Encyclopaedia” app through a localised map of workplace fatalities.

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SafetyAtWorkBlog’s most popular articles of 2015

SafetyAtWorkBlog has had a successful 2015, consolidating itself as a valid independent voice on workplace health and safety, particularly in Australia. But readers don’t get access to some of the statistics for the site and as a year in review exercise below are the top five most-read articles written in 2015, highest readership first:

Impairment argument fails to convince Fair Work Commission over unfair dismissal

WorkSafe Victoria heads roll

Research raises serious questions on SIA’s certification push

Some are losing faith in the Victorian Workcover Authority 

Safety learnings from construction Continue reading “SafetyAtWorkBlog’s most popular articles of 2015”

Beware the power of words

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are being encouraged to think differently about safety and to focus on the positives instead of the failures, the leads instead of the lags. This needs to be supported by how we describe workplace incidents and in this context the profession can learn from one aspect of the debate on family violence in which Australia is currently engaged.

One example is available in this article from Women’s Agenda.  In it Editor Jane Gilmore writes about how the death of a women, murdered by a man, was described poorly by a newspaper.  The headline removes the perpetrator from the action. Continue reading “Beware the power of words”

Conversation about work-related grief

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to spend some time with Bette Phillips-Campbell, the Manager of GriefWork, a unit of the Creative Ministries Network in Melbourne.  GriefWork provides a range of support services to families of those who have died at work or due to work factors.

The conversation touches on issues including

  • how GriefWork operates and is funded,
  • work-related suicide,
  • worker memorials,
  • the application of restorative justice in the workplace context,
  • how a workplace death affects company executives,

The interview can be accessed at Bette Phillips Interview 2015

If you want more information about GriefWork or how you may be able to help this service, please contact Bette on (61) 03 9692 9427 or by email.

Kevin Jones

Stanley’s story is powerful and unforgettable

Recently I was telling a colleague to temper their online video strategy and consider extracting the audio tracks from which a podcast strategy coud be developed. The advantage of podcasts is they can be listened to, be more portable, less distraction and, I think, can be more powerful. Earlier this week I listened to a Canadian podcast/documentary about the familial and social effects of a workplace death in the 1950s.

What can you tell me about Stanley?” is not a contrived plea for greater focus on workplace fatalities, as we often get from occupational health and safety regulators.  It is a snippet of family history, a painful and secret family history about the death of an uncle and a brother in a steel mill in the 1950s.  The  podcast looks at coronial records, company records, notes taken at the time by Stanley’s brother and shows that shame that many feel around workplace deaths now, existed then.

I listened to the podcast several days ago but I shiver now when I recall some of the pain and surprise that the family experienced.

“What Can You Tell Me About Stanley” can be listened to as a straight tale of a workplace death and the way such an incident was perceived in the 1950s.  But just as importantly, this should convince people of the power of simplicity in storytelling and social media.  The documentary obviously took months to put together and the revelations to the family are clearly not linear but this effort provides a fascinating 30 minutes for your attention.

Think of Stanley when you are applying your OHS skills.  You’ll be better for it.

Kevin Jones