Doubts raised over the value of workplace wellness programs

In some Australian workplaces, wellness programs seem to be a dominant interpretation of occupational health and safety (OHS). This is being encouraged through the support of the OHS regulatory agencies. According to one expert, the benefits of workplace wellness programs remain under-researched and what research there is requires validation. Recently Zrui Song of Harvard Medical School said this to the ABC’s Norman Swan:

“There has been a couple of decades of evidence, largely observational in nature, studies that are from single institution or single workplace interventions focused on workplace wellness. And by and large this body of evidence has suggested that the return on investment for workplace wellness programs can be quite large. However, this body of evidence has been limited. They have been limited by the ability to show causal effects of workplace wellness programs…”

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Dust clouds on kitchen benchtops

The Victorian Premier, the Minister for Workplace Safety, Dr Ryan Hoy and others at the silicosis announcement

The Victorian Government has announced that various safety initiatives are being taken on the silicosis risks associated with products described as synthetic stone. This initiative is an important first step in reducing the exposure of workers to silicosis but there are some curiosities in the announcement and WorkSafe Victoria’s accompanying Information Sheet.

The core elements of the government’s action are:

  • “A state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust
  • Free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons
  • A tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica
  • An awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone”.
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The biggest OHS challenge is greed

As the world approaches World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers Memorial Day this coming Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the immorality that unregulated Capitalism allows. A company in one of the last remaining exporters of asbestos, Russia, has used President Donald Trump’s words and image to support its production and export of asbestos*, a product known for over a century to cause fatal illnesses.

Why is asbestos still mind if the evidence of its fatality is incontrovertible? Greed, or as it has been called in the past – “good business sense”. Many authors have written about the history of asbestos globally and locally. Many have written about the injustice in denying victims compensation from exposure to a known harmful chemical. But few have written about the core support for asbestos production, export and sale – Greed.

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New film provides an update on legal action over the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire

An independently-produced documentary, Our Power, about the Hazelwood mine fire had its Victorian premiere on March 2 2019. The Hazelwood coal mine fire was a major workplace disaster than generated substantial public health damage in the neighbour communities in the Latrobe Valley. An early record of the event and its impacts can be found in Tom Doig‘s book The Coal Face.

The documentary provides unique vision of the fire and how it burned and polluted the neighbourhood for over a month in 2014. As time goes on, the fire is seen more as an environmental disaster as it is workplace incident and speakers in Our Power are certainly confident in linking the fire with the privatisation of State-owned assets and the social injustice that underpins neoliberalism.

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Annual Leave is an institutionalised mental health break

Occupational health and safety (OHS) and Human Resources (HR) disciplines continue to, mostly, operate in isolation and, sometimes, in conflict.  Part of the reason is that workplace matters are often seen as either OHS or HR, even though they are both.

SafetyAtWorkBlog looks for why Australian workers have four weeks of Annual Leave.

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