New suicide report has something to say about workplace mental health

Work-related suicides have been in the press a lot in Australia over the last six months.  In June 2010, the Australian Government released a report into suicide called The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia.  It covers suicide as a social issue broadly but there are some mentions in the report about work-related suicides that are worth noting.

On social costs:

“Ms Dulcie Bird of the Dr Edward Koch Foundation argued that whole communities are often affected when a suicide occurs and described low estimates of the number of people effected by suicide as ‘a load of nonsense’. She gave the example of the suicide of a 16-year-old boy in a small town and noted her organisation had completed ’43 face-to-face interventions for that one suicide’. The Foundation commented that suicide results in the loss of the deceased person’s contribution to society as a whole. Continue reading “New suicide report has something to say about workplace mental health”

Safety professionals and regulators must think more broadly and for the future

The European Agency for Occupational Safety & Health at Work has released its Annual Report for 2009/10.  Most of the content should be familiar to those who follow EU-OSHA through their blogs and publications but it provides a good indication of the future of OHS in Europe and the methods that will applied in that future.

Annual Report - Full

One significant achievement of EU-OSHA is its anticipation of workplace hazards.  Few OHS regulators and agencies have had the resources or will to forecast the next set of hazards.  The nature of regulators has been reactive possibly because they remain largely uncertain of how to step beyond the factory fence to acknowledge OHS as a broad social element and, after decades of compartmentalising safety and health to the workplace, to try to catch up with the spread of new varieties of workplaces. Continue reading “Safety professionals and regulators must think more broadly and for the future”

OHS Canaries and Apathy

Guest author, Yossi Berger writes:

“What’s the point of tellin’ them the same thing over and over when nothin’ changes?  I open my mouth about safety again I could lose me job” he said, “Why would I bother?”[a]


Words and names can be used as sneaky accomplices to construct popular or inaccurate narratives.  When such constructions are used as explanations of workers’ behaviour and presumed attitudes they can misdirect occupational health and safety (OHS) programs.  An example is the frequently heard ‘workers’ apathy’ explanation of poor OHS standards.  The important UK 1972 Robens Report on OHS noted:

”….our deliberations over the course of two years have left us in no doubt that the most important single reason for accidents at work is apathy”.[1]

It’s 2009 and some of this in various guises[b] still obscures simple facts at work.

I believe that choosing the banner of ‘apathy’[c] as an explanation of poor OHS standards was and continues to be inaccurate.   Continue reading “OHS Canaries and Apathy”

A safe (social) system of work

For years Australian OHS legislation has focused on establishing a “safe system of work”.  This focus is inclusive and is an understandable approach to safety regulation but it has also generated a fair share of confusion.  If a business does not have a documented safety management system, does it have a system of work?  Yes it does but the lack of documentation makes it very difficult to describe, particularly if there is a performance benchmark such as “compliance”.  Humans like to have a clean line of cause and effect or a linear, causative management process.  So vague concepts like “system of work” can be challenging.

Prescriptive rules used to be the way that safety compliance could be met but that world is long gone.  Its distance can be seen by looking at the Australian Government’s new model Work Health and Safety Act which compounds the vagueness by including “as far as reasonably practicable” wherever possible.  All of this vagueness makes the lot of the business operator more complex and more costly as the business operator seeks clarity from others such as lawyers, OHS consultants, auditors and Standards organizations.  Is it any wonder that safety is seen as an exorbitant cost?  In essence, OHS regulators have outsourced the responsibility, and the cost, to employers. Continue reading “A safe (social) system of work”

Army notice on asbestos bags is warning for all workplaces

Various sectors of the Australian media have been reporting on the potential use of asbestos-tainted sacks by Australian soldiers and Defence personnel.  Asbestos exposure is a recurring risk for the Australian armed services due to items in use, such as the dummy, and the existence of asbestos in various buildings.

The issue of asbestos persisting in sacks was given prominence in the last 12 months by ABC journalist Matt Peacock in his book “Killer Company”.  Peacock reported that inadequately cleaned sacks were reused as carpet underlay in Australia and for other purposes. Continue reading “Army notice on asbestos bags is warning for all workplaces”

Suicide advice shows reactive thinking

Workplace suicides are in the news at the moment due to Foxconn and, to a lesser extent, France Telecome.  There is enough media attention for companies to start to evaluate their own risk exposures.

Through LinkedIn, Tom Boudreau of R&R Insurance Services, issued the following advice under the title “Do Employers Have a Duty to Prevent Workplace Suicides?”:

“A tech company in China has recently been plagued with a rash of worker suicides (and attempted suicides). Nine workers (all of them young) died and two others suffered serious injuries. These workers have not only killed or tried to kill themselves, they’ve done so in the workplace itself. …..

Some labor groups have blamed the company for the suicides, claiming it runs military-style factories and abuses workers. Regardless of the cause, these tragic deaths do raise an interesting question: what duty do employers have—if any—to prevent workplace suicides? Continue reading “Suicide advice shows reactive thinking”

Foxconn worker dies of exhaustion – focus on working hours

On 27 May 2010, a worker at the Foxconn factory in died from overwork, according to a statement released on 4 June 2010 by SACOM.  This coincides with a statement by Hon Hai Precision Industry on 6 June 2002, Hon Hai owns the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen.

The SACOM statement reports:

“Yan Li, 27, is the latest victim of Foxconn, the manufacturer of iPads and other high-tech items that has experienced a recent rash of worker suicides.  He collapsed and died from exhaustion on 27 May after having worked continuously for 34 hours.  His wife said Yan had been on the night shift for a month and in that time had worked overtime every night…”

There is clearly something structurally wrong with the working hours basis of the Foxconn factory.  Foxconn is a contractor or supplier of high-tech devices to major Western corporations who claim to have stringent oversight regimes.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) (not available online except for iPad users)  reports the 4 June Hon Hai statement in which wage increases are announced with the intention of improving worker health or, in Western terms, work-life balance.   Continue reading “Foxconn worker dies of exhaustion – focus on working hours”

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