Recently the Victorian Women Lawyers conducted a seminar into the outcomes of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence. SafetyAtWorkBlog attended even though the topic seems, initially, to have a tenuous link to occupational health and safety (OHS). Family violence is relevant to OHS through its influence on workplace mental ill-health, productivity and the need for cultural…
When talking about workplace health and safety there is almost always questions about why one type of workplace hazard is given more priority than others. This is most common in discussing the neglect of mental health and psychosocial issues in comparison to incidents that result in physical injury or death. The reasons given are almost always social ones, external to the workplace. A commentary in The Guardian newspaper for 1 November 2016 by David Conn adds another reason.
Parts of the English community have been calling for an inquiry into the “battle of Orgreave” which occurred in 1984 during the miners’ strike. This call was strengthened following the findings into the Hillsborough disaster and the cover-up by police. Orgreave campaigners were given hope by statements from the UK parliamentarian Therese May, upon becoming Prime Minister.
On 31 October 2016, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd told Parliament that no inquiry at all will be held into the event at Orgreave over which protesters were taken to Court in a prosecution that fell to bits after police evidence was found to be “unreliable”..
What is most pertinent to OHS is this comment from Conn:
“Rudd declared there was not a sufficient basis for an inquiry, partly because nobody died at Orgreave, as if this is the bar now being set for whether wrongdoing should be held to account.” (Emphasis added)
Rudd’s original statement said this:
“Despite the forceful accounts and arguments provided by the campaigners and former miners who were present that day, about the effect that these events have had on them, ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions”
The Orgreave campaigners accepted that no one died on the day of the incident but that did not seem to be the point of the campaign. The allegation is that the conduct of the police generated unnecessary harm. Lives were ruined, families broken. The campaign was for justice.
Rudd establishes a moral benchmark that only fatalities generate official inquiries. Mental health and the impact of traumatic events get a lower billing. This reflects a similar approach to workplace incidents and harm. Broken legs get more attention than broken heads yet it is fair to say legs heal faster.
Fatalities, in some ways, are easier to manage because there is no disputing that death has occurred, only how and why. Trauma, mental illness, psychosocial problems are more complex as the illness themselves are often disputed or, at least, the extent of harm is disputed. Such psychosocial conditions also have a greater potential to reveal uncomfortable organisational truths such as poor management, poor leadership, exploitation, incivility, disrespect and abuse.
The U.K. Government venerates its political leaders but continues to show poor leadership in areas that could extend political careers (let’s acknowledge that motivation) as well as restoring faith in the political process, which is suffering badly around the world, and providing comfort to its citizens.
Governments are shy of inquiries, particularly independent ones, for many reasons, including cost, but they miss the fact that even though inquiries provide findings, it is often the exposure that provides greater benefit than the list of recommendations in the final report. This is evident from many of the continuing inquiries into child sex abuse by church leaders and others.
Governments, safety regulators and businesses need to accept that psychosocial hazards and incidents have as much merit for investigation as do physical injuries. Ignoring this perpetuates the harm and compounds the inequity and injustice which impedes resolution and the continuous improvement that society expects and OHS legislation requires.
October is National Safety Month in Australia and episode 5 of the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast discusses a range of topics to mirror the diversity of National Safety Month.
Siobhan Flores-Walsh and myself talk about:
- Gender in Safety
- Mental Health
- Simple Safety vs Complex Safety
- Marketing and social media
The Gender in Safety conversation is one that I intend to expand upon in the coming weeks and is useful to notion relation to the increasing number of “women in safety”- type events.
On October 7 2016, Victoria’s trade union movement held a Young Worker Conference. The major public statement from that conference was the launch of a survey report called Young Workers Health and Safety Snapshot. The report has received some mainstream press which is not unusual for this type of trade union member survey. Almost twenty…
Australian workplace mental health advocates often seem to shy away from discussions of suicide, perhaps because suicides are not a regular occurrence at work or because work-related suicide remains stigmatised. To better understand this overlap between suicide and mental health, and the working environment, it may be useful to look at the Japanese experience where work-related suicides, specifically karoshi, seems to have occurred before the appearance or recognition of mental ill-health and depression.
Recently the BBC released a series of broadcasts and podcasts looking at mental health issues. The first episode discussed “Depression in Japan”. The whole series Borders of Sanity will be of interest to mental health students and professionals but the Japanese episode reinforces that the recognition and treatment of depression is not the same around the world. The appearance of depression in Japan is a very recent occurrence and shows the links between mental health and culture, particularly as it relates to the role of work, our place in work and our relationships with our bosses.
Japan has a unique approach to work and the relationships within work. Some of the practices have been exported to other countries as we have seen in companies like Toyota but the perception of workload, diligence, commitment and loyalty has some echoes in Western workplaces.
Karoshi has been reported on in the West many times before, often as a peculiar quirk of the Orient but the recent BBC podcast is less about suicide and more about depression and mental health. The West has a long tradition of psychoanalysis where stress, anxiety and depression have been defined, refined and integrated into our cultures. This is still in its early stages in Japan and the full podcast is a fascinating counterpoint to the Western perception of workplace mental health.