Why bother with the Federal Government on OHS matters?

Australian political debate has a recurring thread of State and Federal responsibility. Currently, this debate focuses on the emergency response for floods in Queensland and New South Wales. Before this was the COVID response and the Black Summer bushfires. This argument over responsibility has trickled along for many years, for Constitutional and other reasons, including occupational health and safety (OHS).

Some years ago, all the Australian governments had a stab at resolving the split without reforming the Constitution through the OHS harmonisation strategy. It tweaked the system without Constitutional reform, but OHS will remain primarily a State and Territory matter (except for Comcare). This allows Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make bold statements (and some not-so-bold) about national problems like sexual harassment in Australian workplaces or worker exploitation in agriculture, understanding that the local jurisdictions are the ones who need to fix and police the problems.

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Notifiable psych injuries may be what’s needed

Recently the Victorian Government proposed six-monthly reports on psychologically hazardous incidents from employers to the OHS regulator, WorkSafe. The aim is to improve the pool of data available to the government in order to tailor harm prevention and reduction initiatives and a red tape campaign from employers is expected. These incident summaries are not the same as reporting a Notifiable Incident to WorkSafe but the notifiable incidents categories are overdue for a review and, maybe, an expansion.

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On mental health, everyone wants to win

In response to the first of this series of articles on Victoria’s proposed Psychological Health regulations, one reader provided an excellent outline of one of the roads leading to the proposal. It is certainly worth looking back to the Boland Review and recommendations, but it is also worth considering some of the politics around Minister Stitt’s announcement in May 2021.

Recently WorkSafe Victoria’s Principal Psychological Health and Safety Specialist, Dr Libby Brook, was interviewed on the Psych Health and Safety Podcast. In providing background to the proposed regulations, politics was touched upon, sort of, but it was good to hear directly from a WorkSafe representative on the issue and the proposed regulations. The interview illustrated some of the strengths and weaknesses in the regulations.

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What is a psychological incident?

The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for Victoria’s draft Psychological Health Regulation does not seem to define what is meant by a psychosocial incident. (If I have missed it, please include a reference in the comments section below) In trying to establish a workplace mental health demographic, the RIS states that:

“As there is currently no legislative reporting requirements for psychosocial incidents, voluntary calls received by WorkSafe’s advisory service have been used as a proxy to estimate the prevalence of psychosocial incidents in the workplace.”

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It is a pretty fluffy determination that the RIS accepts, further illustrating the need for additional data. The advisory service figures record 80% of psychosocial calls relate to bullying.

Continue reading “What is a psychological incident?”

Will workplace psychological regulations work?

Recently the Victorian Government released its proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations supported by a 106-page Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) written by Deloitte Access Economics. Public consultation and submissions are welcome up to the end of March 2022.

These regulations have been promised by the Victorian Government for some time and are likely to be debated in Parliament later in this (election) year. The RIS raises substantial questions, but the Regulations stem from primarily a political decision, so those political promises need to be examined.

This is the first of a series of articles on psychological health and the proposed regulations over the next few days.

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Working Hours and Leadership

The workplace issues of excessive hours, unpaid overtime and the negative mental health and social disruption effects are becoming more commonly discussed but not, necessarily, fixed.  A persistent example of these workplace hazards is the sitting of Parliament.

Parliamentarians are not always good examples of leadership and nor are they good managers of their workplace responsibilities, as shown by the response to sexual harassment and alleged assaults in the Federal Parliament House. A less controversial example of their management is the flexible hours applied to the passing of, usually contentious, legislation.

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OHS remains the bastard child of HR and IR

There continues to be a competitive tension in Australia between the professions (if they are professions) of Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS). This has been most obviously on display in relation to sexual harassment and the psychological harm that results.

Recently Marie Boland, about to be the 2021 Residential Thinker at the University of South Australia, spoke about this tension and much more in an online lecture about “HR: A Human Resources or a Human Rights approach to work health and safety“. At that lecture, Boland said that she pins her hopes for improvement on the new Work Health and Safety Regulations because

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