HWSA on psychological health at work

The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) is a strange concoction. It operates separately from Safe Work Australia but has some overlapping memberships. According to SWA, HWSA:

“is made up of representatives from work health and safety regulators across Australia and New Zealand. They work together to promote and implement best practice in work health and safety in the areas of policy and legislative matters, education and enforcement. Our CEO attends HWSA meetings as an observer.”

In March this year, SafetyAtWorkBlog put some questions to HWSA about psychological risks in the workplace, a topic that has heated up over the last couple of years. The intention was to obtain an idea about HWSA’s “best practice” perspective. The responses were okay but limited, as one can see below.

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Australia’s mental health industry is in transition

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.

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Workplace suicide at one of the “Big 4” consulting firms (Open Access)

Warning: this article discusses suicides

Discussions about workplace mental health are everywhere, including this blog, but workplace suicides are less discussed even though there is a direct connection between the two themes. This is due to the continuing stigmatisation of suicide, legal caution, reputational preservation and other factors. It is difficult to write about but necessary to do so.

Recently an EY (formerly Ernst Young) employee died at work after a work function. Some media has reported on this tragic incident, but EY has been under media scrutiny for some time about its workplace culture.

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SafeWorkSA’s approach to psychological harm is as much as it can do but doesn’t have to be

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.

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Plants, cake and mental health

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.

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Multidisciplinary approach to work-related suicides (Open Access)

Recently Denmark hosted the 19th European Symposium on Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour. Workplace suicide was on the agenda, and SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to pose some questions to a leader in suicide research, Professor Sarah Waters. Below is an illustrative extract:

“….If we reduce suicide to a mental health problem that is located in the mind, then there is no need to question the wider social structures and power relationships in which the individual is embedded. Suicide in my view is a political and a societal problem that is shaped by the wider social forces of which the individual forms part….”

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Traditional suicide prevention strategies struggle for relevance

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.

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