International healthy workplace conference

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The wave of workplace wellness cannot be avoided but wellness is only part of achieving safe and healthy workplaces. At the end of October 2019 Melbourne is hosting the 7th Global Healthy Workplace Awards and Summit at Monash University.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) often accuses workplace wellness advocates of providing symptomatic relief instead of addressing issues that cause the un-wellness in the workplace. However the October summit seems to offer deeper analysis on both these perspectives and in the broader context of healthy workplaces.

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The Interconnectedness Challenge

The solutions to most occupational health and safety (OHS) issues are multidisciplinary meaning that solutions are rarely simple and rarely come from a single source of information or knowledge. Recently I have been challenging my colleagues to spread their voices and experience beyond their own disciplines to illustrate how a worker’s health and safety is affected by a broad range of hazards and environments. I extend that challenge to all organisations including employer and industry groups like the Business Council of Australia (BCA) which has recently released a report on “The state of enterprise bargaining in Australia”.

Many organisations undertake research into different elements of work but rarely take an overall perspective, or one that analyses the interconnection of societal and occupational conditions and pressures. The latest BCA report is one example

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Interesting but not representative

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released the results of its latest occupational health and safety (OHS) survey. In past surveys respondents have been trade union members. This survey was opened to non-union members, but to what extent is unclear but this has not stopped the ACTU speaking of the respondents as workers rather than workers who are all union members.

This differentiation is important. In the 1990s when union membership was much larger, the argument that the survey results were representative of Australia’s workforce was stronger although still debatable. Representation is harder to claim now with union membership being well below 20% overall and below 10% in the private sector.

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Fence or Ambulance?

The other week Lucinda Brogden, one of Australia’s Mental Health Commissioners participated in a three day suicide prevention conference, concluding the week as a keynote speaker at an occupational health and safety (OHS) seminar. Her commitment to keep focusing on the prevention of harm made her a comfortable fit for the largely OHS audience. Hopefully her influence is big on the Australian mental health policy makers.

Brogden reminded the audience of an 1895 poem by Joseph Malins which discusses the prevention of harm through the analogy of putting a fence at the cliff edge to stop people falling rather than having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to collect the dead and injured. It is unlikely that Malins was thinking of workplace safety with this poem but, as a temperance activist, it is certain he was thinking about health. Regardless, the imagery is a useful and simple illustration of the advantages in the prevention of harm, and not just in relation to mental health.

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Suicide Prevention, Genders and Workplace Interventions

Allison Milner speaking at the 2019 National Suicide Prevention Conference

2019 was always going to be a Year of Mental Health for Australians as there are various official inquiries and investigations occurring. Last week alone, the Royal Commission into Mental Health Systems focused on suicide prevention. This overlapped with the National Suicide Prevention Conference (NSPC) and on Friday one of Australia’s National Mental Health Commissioners, Lucinda Brogden, spoke at a VIOSH 40th anniversary seminar.

The “evidence” of Lived Experience dominated the Conference and has been a regular feature of the Royal Commission, but the much more robust evidence of work-related mental health has also been on show. This evidence supports the harm prevention strategies advocated by occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, researchers and Safe Work Australia and continues its peer-reviewed strength, even if the audience seems less than it should be.

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