New inquiry into sexual harassment – an OHS opportunity and challenge

On June 20 2018, the Australian government announced a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, claiming it to be a world-first. Sexual harassment is not an occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard in many ways BUT the psychological harm it can create is. The job of an OHS person is to encourage employers to reduce work-related harm through prevention, so we need to prevent sexual harassment, just as we do for all the work activities that contribute to poor psychological health and safety.

The macroeconomic costs of sexual harassment in the workplace may be of interest to politicians and business lobbyists but this can be a significant distraction from identifying ways to prevent psychological harm, which should be the most important legacy of this type of inquiry.

Addressing the OHS impacts of

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The data for workplace mental health exists, if we demand it

Data about occupational health and safety (OHS) and work-related psychosocial injuries has often been described as being hard to find.  In some ways it is not necessarily hard to find but difficult to access.  An untapped source of data is the records of illness and leave taken that is usually held by the Human Resources (HR) departments, often named “People and Culture”or some variant.  This type of data could be invaluable in determining a workplace psychological profile, if the HR departments would trust OHS professionals more, or release this data in a format that would allow OHS professionals to assess risks while maintaining employees’ privacy.

Beware, Generalisations Ahead

In Australia, employees are usually entitled to ten days’ sick leave, five of which require a medical certificate.  This means that one of the forty-eight expected working weeks may be taken off by workers with no reason provided to the employer other than a call or a text saying “I’m not coming into work today because I am not feeling well.”  Australian slang describes this as “chucking a sickie”.  

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The OHS context of the Robert Doyle case

Source: Lucas Dawson Photography

The number of prominent men who have come a cropper as a result of their sexual harassment includes the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle.  A workplace safety trade show in Melbourne recently conducted a public panel seminar on the issue of sexual harassment with particular emphasis on the Doyle case.  One of the Melbourne councillors at the time, Stephen Mayne, spoke via video.  The panel also included a representative of local government, a safety advocate and a lawyer.

One of the most curious elements of this event was that it was conducted in a trade show

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Australian safety group calls for a Code of Practice on psychosocial risks

The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) is making serious efforts to increase its relevance to Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and the broader community.  Around International Women’s Day, the SIA released a media statement calling for action on workplace bullying, harassment and abuse.

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#MeToo, #TimesUp and #OHS

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Being International Women’s Day, the media is awash with articles about pay rates, gender equality and sexual harassment.  One of those articles is written by Sarah Ralph of Norton Rose Fullbright. Ralph provides a good summary of the current gender issues and recent media attention (may require registration but it’s free).  She makes several recommendations for how to reduce the risk of sexual harassment and unwanted media attention.  Below those recommendations are looked at from the occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective to see how OHS can help reduce the psychological harm. Continue reading “#MeToo, #TimesUp and #OHS”