New book aims to spur the US to action on workplace mental health

A new book on workplace psychological hazards and laws has been published. The book “Managing Psychosocial Hazards and Work-Related Stress in Today’s Work Environment – International Insights for US Organizations” written by Ellen Pinkus Cobb, has a similar format to her coverage of international sexual harassment laws in a previous publication. Many occupational health and safety-related books written in the United States suffer from American parochialism. Cobb’s book is written for US organisations to show what workplace health and safety achievements are possible. The book is a very good summary of international changes in workplace psychosocial hazards.

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Why are farms becoming safer?

It is Farm Safety Week in Australia. These types of events are intended to raise awareness of specific issues. The biggest problem with these events is that solutions are rarely presented; it is assumed that raising awareness is sufficient. This is hard to justify in agriculture, where many of the smaller and high-risk farms have been run by families for many years and often generations. As a result, most people living in the country know of someone widowed after a workplace incident or of someone like the one-armed tennis player or lawn bowler who lost an arm in an unguarded Power Take-Off.

At some point, the strategy must move from raising awareness to providing solutions.

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“There is too little time and the ask is too big to try to change the system”.

There are many similarities between the management of occupational health and safety (OHS) and environment protection. Both seek to prevent and/or mitigate harm, and both have similarly focussed legislation. However, this similarity extends to vulnerabilities in each approach. Neither discipline is solely responsible for the lack of progress in prevention and protection, but both have not realised their potential for change.

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Heat and the need to change work

Europe is experiencing heat at, or close to, levels never recorded before. This has caused the mainstream media to issue advice on how to avoid adverse health impacts from heat exposure. However, the necessary changes to work are not receiving the attention they should.

Australia has faced such situations before, especially in the last decade, so there is some generic occupational health and safety (OHS) available for translation to the European circumstance.

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Action on Health and Safety is always a choice

Last week epidemiologist Hassan Vally wrote one article in The Age called either “Health or economy a false choice” or “COVID caution can be a win for both public health and business” (paywalled), depending on the sub-editor and format. Curiously one has a negative implication, the other, the opposite. Either way, the article illustrates the public health dichotomy that mirrors that of occupational health and safety (OHS).

OHS often requires a decision between profit or production and safety. Public Health deciders need to consider the interests of the public and the duties of government. I prefer the former headline because it states that this decision is a “choice”. Safety, occupational or public, is always a choice.

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Vaccine mandates and omission bias

Over the last two years or so, occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals seemed to have been the go-to people for handling the workplace impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether that is fair or not is debatable, but it is likely to repeat reality as workplaces continue to face labour shortages, production and supply disruption and variable exposure to the virus. At the moment, many politicians are uncertain about how to proceed. Employers need to have an operational plan, but they, or their OHS advisers, also need to step back occasionally and look at the larger context.

That step-back perspective is just what Dyani Lewis has done in a small but useful book called “Unvaxxed – Trust, Truth and the Rise of Vaccine Outrage“.

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Burnout causes are organisational. Who knew?

This blog has written frequently about “burnout” in workplaces, especially since the condition was defined by the World Health Organisation in 2019. I have seen it used many times as a shortcut, or synonym, for workplace mental health but usually only at the corporate, executive level. Workers have breakdowns, but executives seem to suffer burnout.

Recently a book was published in the United States called “The Burnout Epidemic, or The Risk of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It”, by journalist Jennifer Moss. What is most outstanding about this book is that the recommended fix is organisational. Usually, burnout books from the States focus on the individual worker or executive. This fresh US perspective makes the book essential reading for if the US recognises how to fix burnout and chronic stress, any country can.

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