Workplace suicide at one of the “Big 4” consulting firms (Open Access)

Warning: this article discusses suicides

Discussions about workplace mental health are everywhere, including this blog, but workplace suicides are less discussed even though there is a direct connection between the two themes. This is due to the continuing stigmatisation of suicide, legal caution, reputational preservation and other factors. It is difficult to write about but necessary to do so.

Recently an EY (formerly Ernst Young) employee died at work after a work function. Some media has reported on this tragic incident, but EY has been under media scrutiny for some time about its workplace culture.

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Plants, cake and mental health

On mental health, a clinical psychologist, Dr Sanah Ahsan wrote in The Guardian recently that:

“…. I’ve seen first hand how we are failing people by locating their problems within them as some kind of mental disorder or psychological issue, and thereby depoliticising their distress.”

The Guardian, 6 September 2022

This perspective, enlightened for psychologists, is an established position for the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) advocates. But OHS advocates have been traditionally weak and sometimes timid outside of the trade union movement. Most employers will pay more attention to the OHS position on mental health when it is spoken by one of their own or by a more respected professional.

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Traditional suicide prevention strategies struggle for relevance

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Many organisations are and will be, releasing information about suicides but not really the prevention of suicides, more the management of potential suicides. It is a curious international day as it is almost a warm-up to Mental Health Day (and, in some places, Month).

This week Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) released a report based on a survey of 283 responses, the majority from members of SPA. It’s not a representative survey, but it gained a fair bit of media attention. It also raises consideration of the meaning of a “whole-of-government” approach and the role of Regulations in preventing suicides.

Regardless of the peculiar survey sample, the media release accompanying offered a statement that should have all mental health and suicide prevention professionals reassessing their strategies.

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Lymph v Blood – OHS at the Jobs & Skills Summit

If Industrial Relations is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation, then Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is the lymphatic system, a less well-known supplementary system without which blood circulation fails and the body stops working.

Australia’s Job and Skills Summit that has just concluded focused on the blood. Media analysis offered mixed interpretations. The event was politically stage-managed with many agenda items pre-prepared for the Summit to confirm, but it was not a worthless gabfest, as some (who chose not to attend) have asserted. On the matter of occupational health and safety, there was one new initiative but most of the OHS change, if any, is now more likely to come through the (wellbeing) budget in October.

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OHS is a journey but does it have to be so long?

Commitments to occupational health and safety (OHS) not only appear in Parliamentary debates on workplace safety. Last week, Labor Party politician Will Fowles reiterated the Victorian government’s OHS commitment in a speech about justice amendments and the police.

“This justice legislation amendment bill also establishes a legislative framework for the restorative engagement and redress scheme to support current and former Victoria Police [VicPol] employees who have experienced past workplace sex discrimination or sexual harassment.

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Major omissions from business perspective before the Jobs and Skills Summit

Next month the Australian government is conducting a “Jobs and Skills Summit“. Such consultative events have been held every so often for decades but usually after a new government is sworn in and after the previous one was in power for too long or lost its way. Such summits are seen as ways of reconnecting with disaffected and disempowered industry associations, trade unions and other organisations with the ear of the incoming government.

One of the most vocal industry associations is the Business Council of Australia. The BCA has existed since 1983. Its Wikipedia entry lists its large corporate membership, providing context to its policies and positions. On August 15 2022, its CEO Jennifer Westacott had an opinion piece, “What a Jobs Summit ‘win’ would look like“, published in the Australian Financial Review, but with a different headline. Workplace safety was mentioned in passing but is hiding in the subtext elsewhere.

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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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