Bad work “habits” are part of the problem

The headline immediately caught my attention:

“Five bad habits to dump before resuming work”

Australian Financial Review, January 4, 2022

Such is the power of the click-bait headline.

This article is aimed at middle managers and those working from home. It is in the Australian financial/business newspaper so articles about individual empowerment and entrepreneurship rather than structural change are expected. The article above is a classic example of the Australian Financial Review’s approach to workplace health and safety matters: a newspaper with significant influence on business leaders and executives but one that rarely quotes or approaches occupational health and safety (OHS) experts.

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Diagnosis is the key

Part 2 of 2

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has reported on “mental health conditions” in its latest report on workers compensation claims and that these conditions represent 9% of claims for the 2018-2019 period (page 20). Claims have also increased in this category from 6,615 in 2000-2001 to over 10,000 in the latest data period. Mental health conditions are described elsewhere by SWA as affecting non-physical bodily locations (page 38).

As with many other reports, “mental health conditions” are not defined, but SWA states that this phrase is an alternative to “psychological injuries”. It also gives a numerical and dollar value to these conditions:

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No psych regulation in Victoria until mid-2022

The Victorian Government has pledged to introduce regulations to address psychological risks in workplaces. According to a second consultation paper on psychological health regulations, seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog, the consultation process continues but has been extended, so the new regulations are unlikely before the middle of 2020. This extension would seem a little unnecessary given the work on this hazard already from Safe Work Australia and SafeWorkNSW.

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“Too little, too late” but potential in primary prevention

On Australia’s Women’s Safety Summit, Wendy Tuohy contemplated, in The Age, after the first day;

“It may turn out to be too little, too late, but if there’s real commitment behind Morrison’s lines, we could conclude it’s a start.”

There are few signs of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment. Women will continue to work in companies and workplaces where they are at risk of psychological harm from sexual harassment and physical harm from sexual assault. Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws offer a harm prevention option that nobody seems keen to consider.

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Can the sex industry be the same as any other industry?

The Australian State of Victoria has committed to the decriminalisation of sex work. It made this decision some time ago, conducted an inquiry into how this could be achieved and is now in a further consultative process on what laws and practices need to change. The aim is honourable – to reduce the stigma of a legitimate industry. However, there is one statement repeated in media releases and discussion papers that encapsulates the challenge:

“Decriminalisation recognises that sex work is legitimate work and should be regulated through standard business laws, like all other industries in the state.”

That challenge is can, and should, Victoria’s sex industry be treated like “all other industries”?

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Is a definition of a “safe system of work” still needed?

Recently Carlo Caponecchia and Anne Wyatt published a short article about the “safe system of work” (open access for a limited time) – an important concept of occupational health and safety (OHS) and element of OHS laws, but one that is poorly defined; possibly because a sociological definition is more useful, and the sociology of work has always played second fiddle to the legal. This concise article should spark a lively discussion on safety management systems, safety culture and the safe system of business.

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Business is getting some clarity on COVID-19 vaccines and a reminder to act

On August 12 2021, the Chair of Safe Work Australia, Diane Smith-Gander entered the fray over making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in an article in The Age. Later that day, in the absence of any clear guidance on the issue from the Federal Government, The Age reported that the Fair Work Ombudsman will be providing guidance on 4 tiers of workplaces relevant to assessing COVID-19 exposure risks.

The combinations of advice from these sources, greatly clarify what businesses can do to improve the safety of their workers and customers. The reticence to take reasonable occupational health and safety (OHS) steps by business groups will remain but the clarity they have been requesting will soon be available.

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