Dr Ian Hickie is a well-respected and knowledgeable advocate of mental health. His CV shows extensive experience in this area since the 1980s. Recently Dr Hickie spoke to the Australian Financial Review about EY’s announcement of a review into its workplace culture following the death by suicide of one of EY’s employees at their offices. The article (paywalled) seems to show a change in traditional approaches to mental health in workplaces, but the change needs to be much more significant and broader.
The harm presented by working in Australia’s mining sector has been a concern for a long time. Over the last decade or two, the psychosocial harm from the same work has come to the fore. The occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibility sits clearly with the employers who, in Australia, are often well-resourced national and international corporations. Recently SafeWorkSA issued a media release entitled “Sexual harassment in mining sparks campaign“. SafetyAtWorkBlog took the opportunity to put some questions to the South Australia OHS agency, to which it has responded.
On mental health, a clinical psychologist, Dr Sanah Ahsan wrote in The Guardian recently that:
“…. I’ve seen first hand how we are failing people by locating their problems within them as some kind of mental disorder or psychological issue, and thereby depoliticising their distress.”The Guardian, 6 September 2022
This perspective, enlightened for psychologists, is an established position for the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) advocates. But OHS advocates have been traditionally weak and sometimes timid outside of the trade union movement. Most employers will pay more attention to the OHS position on mental health when it is spoken by one of their own or by a more respected professional.
September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Many organisations are and will be, releasing information about suicides but not really the prevention of suicides, more the management of potential suicides. It is a curious international day as it is almost a warm-up to Mental Health Day (and, in some places, Month).
This week Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) released a report based on a survey of 283 responses, the majority from members of SPA. It’s not a representative survey, but it gained a fair bit of media attention. It also raises consideration of the meaning of a “whole-of-government” approach and the role of Regulations in preventing suicides.
Regardless of the peculiar survey sample, the media release accompanying offered a statement that should have all mental health and suicide prevention professionals reassessing their strategies.
If Industrial Relations is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation, then Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is the lymphatic system, a less well-known supplementary system without which blood circulation fails and the body stops working.
Australia’s Job and Skills Summit that has just concluded focused on the blood. Media analysis offered mixed interpretations. The event was politically stage-managed with many agenda items pre-prepared for the Summit to confirm, but it was not a worthless gabfest, as some (who chose not to attend) have asserted. On the matter of occupational health and safety, there was one new initiative but most of the OHS change, if any, is now more likely to come through the (wellbeing) budget in October.
Commitments to occupational health and safety (OHS) not only appear in Parliamentary debates on workplace safety. Last week, Labor Party politician Will Fowles reiterated the Victorian government’s OHS commitment in a speech about justice amendments and the police.
“This justice legislation amendment bill also establishes a legislative framework for the restorative engagement and redress scheme to support current and former Victoria Police [VicPol] employees who have experienced past workplace sex discrimination or sexual harassment.
“The goal of the Summit is to find common ground on how Australia can build a bigger, better trained and more productive workforce; boost real wages and living standards; and create more opportunities for more Australians.”
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is relevant to training, productivity, and living standards but is hardly mentioned in the issues paper and is likely to be ignored in the Summit itself, even though the issues paper includes a question about workplace safety,