The HR approach to mental health needs to be challenged

Human Resources (HR) management may seem to be a bit of a punching bag in SafetyAtWorkBlog articles. There is no doubt that HR can do better to prevent harm, especially psychological harm, but so can ever other management profession. One 2018 article was recently reposted by Human Resources Director (HRD) magazine on workplace mental health which deserves some consideration.

Firstly the article is categorised under “Corporate wellness”, instantly locking it into a specific area of HR and occupational health and safety (OHS). The article, written by lawyer Amber Chandler of Barker Henley, also has relevance to risk management, due diligence, Industrial Relations or OHS and, as mentioned in another article recently, could benefit from being posted or cross-posted in those other categories, or even under “Leadership”. The categorisation is likely to have been an editorial decision but reveals something about HR and HR media.

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OHS and the Four Day Week

Recently the BBC’s Business Daily had a short discussion about the introduction of the 4 Day Week. This workplace reform has knocked about for a few years now and seems to have some mental health and job satisfaction benefits. This is enough for it to interest occupational health and safety (OHS), especially as it is one of the few examples of a structural and organisational change rather than an intervention aimed at each individual worker.

The BBC discussion indicates the difference (it may be a schism) between a new way of thinking about work and the old traditional way. The opponent to the 4 Day Week emphasises the individual over the organisational and compares service industries to those that produce goods.

The episode, now a podcast, is a good introduction to the for and against of the 4 Day Week but careful listening shows the challenge ahead.

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Right information, wrong magazine

The OHS Professional magazine for December 2020 contains a very good article about workplace psychological risks and the occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy to prevent mental harm. The only negative is that it is not published in a Human Resources magazine, or one for company directors. The preventative techniques are well known to the OHS profession and based on independent scientific evidence, but it is other managerial disciplines that need to learn the difference between preventing psychological harm and providing symptomatic relief.

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Federal leadership misses State action

Australia’s Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has popped up on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues several times in the last few weeks. It is fair to say that each time he has not really shone, partly due to political ideology and partly due to constitutional structures. Some of these barriers, the Minister can address.

As mentioned recently, several food delivery drivers have died. Minister Porter was asked specifically about one of these deaths, that of Chow Khai Shien, in Parliament by the Australian Labor Party’s Josh Burns. Porter said that he had talked to representatives of the Transport Workers Union about this type of work, but:

“One of the things that we discussed in that meeting was the fact—that is acknowledged, I think, inside the union—that occupational health and safety for those drivers is, not just predominantly, but essentially, a state based responsibility.”

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Fire Flood Plague OHS

2020 is a year of continuing social change, so a book of essays that reflects on 2020 seems a little presumptuous. But just because we are in a state of social flux does not mean we must wait for stability before examining the process of change.

This December Random House Penguin will publish “Fire Flood Plague“, a collection of essays from prominent Australian writers about what Tim Flannery calls the three catastrophes:

“…the unprecedented, climate-fuelled megafires that were extinguished by damaging, climate-influenced floods. Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic…..”

page 69-70

There are some parallels between how people responded to these disasters and how workplace safety and health is managed. But more than that, the essays provide an insight into how others feel about what is happening, and these writers’ thoughts will reflect the thoughts of those with whom we work, with those we are obliged to manage and with those whose physical and mental welfare we are obliged to improve.

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Noisy Buggers in the Post-COVID world

Guest Post by Melody Kemp

In my more bizarre moments, I can imagine the cockpit conversation:

‘Hey Bill, there’s the blue and white house. We turn left here’
‘Bob, Copy. Over.’

Of course, it’s nonsense to think that the complexities of aircraft take-offs and landings would depend on visual cues, rather than complex technology, weather and fuel economy.  In fact, it’s the very technology that allows communities to track and identify aircraft and the noise level as they pass overhead.

But I have to admit that, particularly at night, when I see the queue of aircraft waiting to approach, their starboard and port lights blazing into our living room, it’s hard not to go out and shake an impotent fist at the crew.

As I completed this third paragraph, a Jetstar plane flew overhead. I measured the roar at 76DbA, another app told me it was slightly less than 1000 feet above my roof.  As it continues to descend, it passes over the densely populated parts of the city that follow the Brisbane River, including New Farm and Doomben, well known to race goers. What was that old saying about don’t scare the horses?

I work at home. My concentration and the paragraphs I write, come in lumps divided by the passing of planes. Some, like the Flying Doctor prop-jets, make, in objective terms, little noise (around 58dBA), but if one is sensitised to the noise in general, they become yet another psychological hazard. Evidence for aircraft noise exposure being linked to poorer well-being, lower quality of life, and psychological ill health is reflected by the responses to my questions and Facebook comments posted by concerned residents (some are included below)

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What did we learn in Senate Estimates last week?

Australia has a process of accountability where Ministers and Heads of Government Departments and Authorities are required to answer attend Senate Estimates. Few people outside of the Canberra bureaucracy pay much attention to the occupational health and safety (OHS) information provided. Most media pay attention to disputes and statements that have a more general political appeal, but there is important information about workplace health and safety, such as an update of the progress on Marie Boland’s recommendations or the role and activity of Safe Work Australia (SWA).

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