New evidence of mental health effects on the relatives of deceased workers

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Australian seems to be leading in the investigation of the (secondary) familial and social impacts of work-related death. New research from Lynda Matthews, Michael Quinlan and Philip Bohle to be publicly released soon focused on the mental health of bereaved families after a relative’s death. They found

“At a mean of 6.40 years post-death, 61 percent of participants had probable PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), 44 percent had probable MDD (major depressive disorder), and 43 percent had probable PGD (prolonged grief disorder).”

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Industrial Manslaughter concerns of the Victorian government taskforce

In April this year the Victorian Government’s Workplace Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce raised the following issues in its Criminal Law Reform Consultation Paper, seen by the SafetyAtWorkBlog:

  • the definition of “person” in the OHS and proposed Industrial Manslaughter laws
  • the establishment of negligence and the standard of care expected by the reasonable person
  • the extension of Industrial Manslaughter offence to the deaths of members of the public
  • whether a decision or act causes the death or only contributes to it
  • exceptions to the laws beyond just volunteers
  • inter-agency cooperation and coordination for effective prosecutions.
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Bereaved families group demands changes

Documents related to the development and implementation of Industrial Manslaughter laws in Victoria and seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog say that the Department of Justice and Community Services will draft a policy paper on the laws prior to the proposed Industrial Manslaughter Bill being presented to Parliament in October or November. October’s Work Health and Safety Month promises to be lively this year.

Participants in the Workplace Fatalities and Serious Incidents Reference Group had expressed concerns about the phoenixing of companies after a workplace fatality and that workplaces where deaths have occurred should be treated as a crime scene that:

“…should not be operational until a full investigation is complete”

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“They did not know what to say, so they stop saying anything at all”

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Behind every call for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Australia over the last twenty years has been is a deeply grieving family. We often see relatives on the TV News, standing outside of Courts, or at memorial sites. SafetyAtWorkBlog fears for the mental health of these people who have usually been traumatised by the death and whose experiences in the immediate aftermath and the months afterwards often exacerbates that trauma.

But people have been killed at work for centuries and often the current pain and anger is so raw that we fail to remember those who have already gone through this process because their voices have often been used and discarded.

SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with several bereaved relatives who have experienced the loss of a relative at work. The focus was on those whose relatives died over a decade ago, to gain a more measured and reflective perspective and in order to understand what may be in the future for all of us who have workers in our families. I responded more emotionally to these stories than I expected and have found it difficult to write about the issues I intended to address, so I have decided to let these interviews and stories stand pretty much by themselves.

The first of these responses is from Jan Carrick. Her 18-year-old son Anthony died in 1998 on his first day at work. One article written in 2003 about Anthony’s death and that of other young workers said this:

Continue reading ““They did not know what to say, so they stop saying anything at all””

Victims of industrial crime

On May 13 2019 the Australian media published articles based on research (released after embargo) conducted by the RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice and about victims of crime which those advocating for Industrial Manslaughter laws should seriously consider.

The Age newspaper reports

“Victims of crime felt let down by the system when offenders pleaded guilty to a less serious charge and did not proceed to trial ‘‘ because they wanted the opportunity to tell their story’’ , …..”

and that

“One victim interviewed during the research said they felt left out of discussions with the OPP when charges in their case were downgraded from murder to manslaughter for a plea of guilt …”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) seems a little ahead of the game here as relatives of deceased workers have been integrated into OHS consultation in both Queensland and Victoria. Relatives had a very strong voice through the Senate Inquiry into Industrial Deaths. Victim Impact Statements have been possible in the Courts for many years but Industrial Manslaughter laws add an additional depth to the participation of victims of industrial crime, and an additional risk of false promises.

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