The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) has released an important survey of their members about health and wellbeing at work. Amongst many of the findings is that “Stress continues to be one of the main causes of absence” and that “Heavy workloads remain by far the most common cause of stress-related absence…” So how are CIPD members reducing the heavy workloads? They’re not. 78% of respondents are using Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to “identify and reduce stress”. Options like hiring additional staff or reducing the workload do not even chart. OMG!
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is rarely reported on in the mainstream newspapers but every week OHS is there, adding a contect to a scandal or subtext to a public health risk. Last weekend was no different. The Guardian of September 16, 2023 reported on a review of personal relationships by BP, a prison escape, deaths from air pollution, a more relaxed approach to work, shoplifting and customer aggression, and more.
RUOK? Day is held in September each year in Australia. The workplace suicide awareness campaign has been very successful, but over time, I have observed a decline in effectiveness, certainly at the local communication level. It may be a victim of its own success as almost all awareness campaigns struggle to maintain their original freshness. Perhaps it is time for a change. Perhaps that change is being forced upon us.
The Australian Financial Review published an article on April 14 2023 (paywalled) about workplace health and safety risks faced by retail workers. The entry point was the stabbing death of twenty-year-old bottle shop worker Declan Laverty in Darwin. That a business newspaper includes an extensive article on workplace safety is a positive, but it tries to be too inclusive and overlooks hazard control measures.
Recently at the Central Safety Group, I offered two business options to prevent and manage the risks of mental injury at work – Employ more people or Descope company expectations. This was glib, but I was trying to simplify the decisions that employers will face if they choose to meet their occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations. The reality of the decision-making process is challenging, but it seems to me that the core decisions are to increase the workforce to adequately and safely meet the needs of the company or project, or reduce the production volume or decrease the expectations of the client, and the related stress levels of the workers, to match the size of the workforce.
The actual decision is more complex, but this choice is fundamental to the prevention of harm and compliance with the OHS laws.
Reading Safe Work Australia’s latest ten-year strategy forced me to think creatively.
SWA’s discussion of Persistent Challenges suggests controls that are almost all at the Administrative Control level – education, awareness, knowledge, training, understanding, support, communication and more. This is after admitting that:
“Injury and fatality rates have fallen significantly over the last decade. However, progress has slowed.”Page 5
How can we increase the use of the Hierarchy of Controls (HoC) in determining safety-related policy? How can we get organisations to progress up the control hierarchy to show others that it is possible to prevent all of the incidents that everyone agrees are preventable? (Refer to WorkSafe Victoria’s Colin Radford for a recent example of this belief:
“Every workplace incident, every injury, every illness, every death is entirely unequivocally preventable.”)
So Australia did not ban the importation of engineered stone. The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) have issued a Communique and a joint media release outlining their decision. It’s a political slap in the face to the trade unions who went hard on the ban.
Many organisations supported the call to ban the importation and use of engineered stone due to the unacceptable risk associated with cutting the product. Many were strident in need for the ban. Even the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, was talking tough on the morning of the critical meeting of the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities. So what went wrong?