Real men and work-related suicide

Recently Huffington Post Australia posted a video about male suicides called “Men are killing themselves to be real men”.  Many of the speakers talked about their experiences at work or with work.  The video is highly recommended.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to talk with the Associate Video Editor, Emily Verdouw. Below is an edited transcript.

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No one is hurt, so there is nothing to see

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 Night photo of Houses Westminster Bridge and Big Ben, Londoninjury 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.

Kevin Jones

Overburden exposes the social burden of workplace death and illness

On 26 February 2016, a recent documentary about a portion of the American coal-mining industry, Overburden, was shown with a panel discussion, as part of the Transitions Film Festival in Melbourne. The film is commonly promoted as an environmental film but it also touches on

  • Corporate and executive arrogance;
  • A complete disregard to worker safety;
  • Excessive influence of industry lobbyists in the political process;
  • The socio-economic impacts of allowing an industrial monopoly;
  • Personal perspectives of risk.

The trailer hints at some of these issues. (A traditional mainstream review of the film is available HERE)

The panel drew direct lines between the Appalachian issues raised in the film with the socio-economic issues in Victoria’s LaTrobe Valley that resulted from the Hazelwood Mine Fire. Continue reading “Overburden exposes the social burden of workplace death and illness”

Applying a “bullshit filter” during Mental Health Week

Cover of MCA_Mental_Health_Blueprint_FINALThis week in Australia is Mental Health Week.  Some call it an Mental Health Awareness Week.  Either way the Australian media will be full of experts and “experts”.  Workplace health strategies will not be excluded but when reading and listening to this media content, one important point should be remembered – “mental health” is significantly different from “mental illness”.

Such differentiation should not be dismissed as semantics because health, illness, problems and disorders involve different levels of analysis and diagnosis and, therefore, different strategies, interventions and control measures.

Recently the

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Chronic asbestos deaths, sudden mining disasters – both indicate deep corporate problems

It is less than a week until the premiere of Devil’s Dust, a movie about asbestos in Australia and the corporate maneuverings of James Hardie Industries to minimise its exposure to compensation claims but its lessons spread beyond asbestos to politics, corporate responsibility and individual morality.

In a recent article on the movie, the depiction of then New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, was mentioned.  The politics of asbestos is well shown in the Carr depiction.  The asbestos issue seemed to have little importance until a political value was placed on the issue.  Carr, a Labour Party politician, then acted, met people affected by asbestos-related diseases and made clear statements of moral significance about asbestos and corporate responsibility.

Recently Crikey reminded its readers of some comments on asbestos compensation from 2007.  Apparently, the now-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop stated

“I have enormous sympathy for those who suffered asbestos-related diseases,” she said in a statement to The Australian. “There were members of the CSR executive management team who also died of asbestos-related diseases who had worked at Wittenoom.

“As one of the lawyers in the case, I acted ethically and professionally at all times in accordance with client instructions.” [link added]

There is no doubt that Bishop acted ethically and professionally in her role as a lawyer but by 2007, the issue of asbestos exposure and compensation had moved to a moral basis.  Are companies who resist providing compensation for illnesses caused by their products being heartless or responsible corporate citizens? Continue reading “Chronic asbestos deaths, sudden mining disasters – both indicate deep corporate problems”

Australia’s mining sector progresses safety but without effective accountability

In 2010 the New South Wales Mines Safety Advisory Council (MSAC) released its important Digging Deeper report, proving this industry sector is at the forefront of safety management innovation in Australia.  This month  MSAC provided an insight into “world-leading” safety with its report “Actions for World-leading Work Health and Safety to 2017“.

The report discusses five strategic areas for attention but of more interest is the elements that MSAC believes represents “world-leading WHS”:

Continue reading “Australia’s mining sector progresses safety but without effective accountability”

Where can I get my own Cynthia Carroll?

The June 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review includes a fascinating article (extract online ) on safety by the controversial CEO of Anglo American, Cynthia Carroll.  The whole article is well worth reading but there was one element that I found particularly interesting, Carroll’s mention of zero harm.

Carroll visited operations in South Africa where Anglo American employed 86,000 people from various cultural background s and literacy. She writes:

“When I visited the operations, my conversations with local managers were frustrating. Safety was improving, they assured me, but it would never be perfect. My goal of zero harm was simply not achievable. The head of our platinum operations at the time insisted repeatedly, “Cynthia, you just have to understand…” As I talked to people and examined the facilities, I wondered how much authority someone who is underground for hours on end, with a shift supervisor right behind him, really has. I questioned whether a line worker had the power to put up his hand and say, “I’m not going to do this, because it is unsafe.””

Following a fatality on the day of her visit and in conjunction with the safety concerns she had, Carroll closed the Rustenburg platinum mine for a structural safety makeover. Continue reading “Where can I get my own Cynthia Carroll?”