The HR approach to mental health needs to be challenged

Human Resources (HR) management may seem to be a bit of a punching bag in SafetyAtWorkBlog articles. There is no doubt that HR can do better to prevent harm, especially psychological harm, but so can ever other management profession. One 2018 article was recently reposted by Human Resources Director (HRD) magazine on workplace mental health which deserves some consideration.

Firstly the article is categorised under “Corporate wellness”, instantly locking it into a specific area of HR and occupational health and safety (OHS). The article, written by lawyer Amber Chandler of Barker Henley, also has relevance to risk management, due diligence, Industrial Relations or OHS and, as mentioned in another article recently, could benefit from being posted or cross-posted in those other categories, or even under “Leadership”. The categorisation is likely to have been an editorial decision but reveals something about HR and HR media.

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The black sheep of safety leadership

Western Australia’s Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws are now in effect. The same arguments for and against were posed in Parliament and outside as they were in Queensland and Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory well before that. The IM laws will face the same institutional hurdles to application and offer the same, nominal, deterrent effect.

But WA also prohibited insurance policies that cover the financial penalties applied by the Courts. Such policies may make good business sense in managing risk, but they also remove the pain and deterrence intended in the design and application of Work Health and Safety laws.

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More workplace bullshit, but in a good way

Bullshit is starting to gain some serious analysis with four researchers recently publishing “Confronting indifference toward truth: Dealing with workplace bullshit” in Business Horizons. One attraction of this research paper is its focus on workplace business communications and conversations, but it is almost impossible to read it without thinking of the recently ousted United States President and how lies and “fake news” have dominated international political discourse.

Another attraction is that it is not just an analysis but one that also suggests pathways to detect and reduce the bullshit. What I was unprepared for was to start to feel sympathy for the bullshitter.

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Half of One Percent Safer

This blog should be an indication that brevity does not come naturally to an occupational health and safety (OHS) professional. (Imagine the struggle of an OHS academic!!) Dr Andrew Sharman asked 137 OHS thinkers to provide a 500-word chapter each, essentially a page, about workplace health and safety. His new (very limited edition) book, “One Percent Safer“, includes text, cartoons, single paragraph quotes, graphics but most of all some much-needed wisdom. Not as much as one would have hoped, if you have been involved with OHS for a few years, but plenty for the newbie or, hopefully, a lot for the businessperson who struggles with this “safety stuff”.

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A wicked start to a virtual safety conference

Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) conducted an online conference under the title SafeFest. The intention was to challenge the established orthodoxy of workplace health and safety. One of the conference’s first speakers was David Whitefield talking about safety as a “wicked problem”. It is a perspective that occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals have heard before but it is one that is an important reminder.

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Responsibility and its denial

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are intended to clarify who is responsible for workplace health and safety and to assist those responsible to fulfil their OHS duties. But responsibility is hardly ever discussed in reality except after an incident. A core question at that time is “Who was responsible?”, with the social subtext being “It wasn’t me.” OHS laws have already established broad OHS responsibilities which we accept when we have to, but deny when we don’t.

Clear, defined roles and responsibility are core to our understanding of workplace health and safety and the establishment of a safe and healthy workplace, and also of corporate integrity and productivity.

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“Justice Tempered” – ethics and abuse

Recently the Finance Sector Union (FSU) released a small study on ethics and capitalism. The report illustrates how poor corporate ethics and greed created a disregard for the mental health of the finance industry’s workers as well as the financial and mental health of its customers.

The report – “Justice Tempered – How the finance sector’s captivity to capitalist ethics violates workers’ ethical integrity and silences their claims for justice” – was written by John Bottomley, Brendan Byrne and John Flett. Although it is based on detailed interviews with only eight finance sector workers, the authors use these conversations as a catalyst for broader discussions of ethics with extensive cross referencing of relevant, books, publications and, especially, the findings and report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

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