The Australian Government has released the terms of reference into its Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health. The inquiry has broad aims that clearly include occupational health and safety (OHS) and may set some evidence challenges for some of those in the workplace wellbeing sector:
“It will look at how governments across Australia, employers, professional and community groups in healthcare, education, employment, social services, housing and justice can contribute to improving mental health for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.” (emphasis added)
The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP has written that
“the Commission should consider the role of mental health in supporting economic participation, enhancing productivity and economic growth.”
In September 2018 Australia commenced an inquiry into sleep health awareness. At the time:
“The Committee Chair, Mr Trent Zimmerman MP, stated that ‘the Committee will examine the causes, economic and social costs, and treatment of inadequate sleep and sleep disorders.” (link added)
Although there is no timetable for the tabling of this Committee’s final report, many of the issues raised in the submissions relate directly to work and work-related mental health risks. Sadly there are hardly any solutions but this is a challenge to all public inquiries and which is particularly relevant to the current spate of Australian inquiries into OHS and mental health.
Most non-transport industries do not look for the lack of sleep or fatigue as a factor in their investigations. Unless a formal investigation is undertaken, fatigue is rarely mentioned and, if it is, it is categorised as a “contributory factor”, which often means it is given such a low priority that nothing will be done about it. This is partly a legacy of silo thinking that sleep is a non-work personal activity, which it is, but is still one that can affect work and all the relationships and decisions made at work. But it is also partly due to the enormous disruption that could result if the lack of sleep and fatigue were taken seriously and effective control measures were introduced.
The most effective control for fatigue may be human-friendly shifts and “reasonable” working hours but that might not fit the shift rosters which are required to satisfy clients. We know that night shift has higher health and physical risks than day shift so logically, get rid of night shift ….
On the corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets in Melbourne is a monument to the 8 Hour Day. This represents a social structure of work that equates to
- Eight hours of work,
- Eight hours of recreation,
- Eight hours of sleep,
The concept started in Australia in the mid-1800s and was intended to reduce exploitation and abuse of workers, many of whom were children.
The intent was to establish, what we would now call, a work/life balance structure with the recognition that work is required to earn a living, sleep is required to rejuvenate the body, preparing it for work, and recreation was social time, time with one’s family, exercise, all sorts of personal and social activities.
Today that structure is an “ideal” rather than a reality.
On October 12 2018 the Australian Financial Review (AFR) published an exclusive article about an investigation by WorkSafe Victoria into excessive working hours at an Australian law firm, King & Wood Mallesons (KWM). The article was later expanded on line.
There are several curious elements of this report that could reflect other workplaces that may experience sudden high workload demands and fatigue. Some seem to see the significance of this article as being less about the workloads and fatigue but more about WorkSafe Victoria’s involvement in an industry sector where it does not usually play.
The Australian Government announced a Royal Commission into the Banking and Financial sectors in 2017. It was created urgently and given only 12 months to conclude its investigations. As a result banks and financial institutions