HR, welcome to the OHS world and start getting used to it

In an article on burnout in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on December 10 2022 (paywalled), there was a peculiar quote and some paraphrasing of Sarah McCann, chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), indicating the size of the challenges facing human resources professionals in preventing psychosocial harm in Australian workplaces.

The article is a peculiar one. It states that burnout has been categorised as an occupational risk by the World Health Organisation but then reports on psychological support organisations who are applying the concept outside of work activities. The justification for this is that the work undertaken at home or in caring for a family is unpaid work but still work, so the occupational definition applies. That’s a stretch, but it’s possible.

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Old working hours concepts persist as subtext in new debates

One of the most contentious occupational health and safety (OHS) elements of industrial relations negotiations is the issue of working hours. And one of the most effective ways to prevent physical and psychological harm is by talking about working hours. The evidence for harm from excessive and often unpaid hours is clear, but some assumptions crop up in the debate every so often.

Two recent books, one by David Graeber & David Wengrow and another by Daniel Susskind, offer reminders of these issues and are useful adjuncts to the Australian research on precarious work by Michael Quinlan, Phillip Bohle and others. ( A Guardian review of Graeber & Wengrow is available here with one from The Atlantic here, Susskind here and here)

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Will firewalking become the norm?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) will have little effect on reducing the pace of global warming. Still, OHS will definitely need to assist in changing how we continue to work in future weather extremes. SafetyAtWorkBlog has previously written about working in extreme heat, but a new multimedia report from the New York Times (paywalled) illustrates the challenges in some uncomfortable ways.

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You don’t have to talk about OHS to talk about OHS

On November 16 2022, Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra. Although his portfolio has occupational health and safety (OHS), workplace health and safety was mentioned only once in passing. In this instance, that’s okay because he is trying to pass a major piece of industrial relations (IR) law. But some of his speech raised issues related to work or how businesses are managed, which do have important OHS contexts.

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Dunlop on psychosocial risks in law firms

Recently Maddocks law firm partner Catherine Dunlop spoke on the Lawyers Weekly Show podcast about psychosocial risks in the workplace. Although the podcast aims at legal practices, Dunlop’s comments and advice seem to apply to many white-collar jobs and professions.

Dunlop said that the discussion about psychosocial hazards at work has matured since the sexual harassment Respect@Work report and that:

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Workplace suicides should be both notified and investigated

Why does this blog keep writing about workplace suicides? For decades, occupational health and safety (OHS) policy has been determined and measured by traumatic physical fatalities. Psychosocial policies need to be determined and measured by work-related suicides. But to achieve this starting point, the stigma of suicide needs addressing. Recently Professor Sarah Waters and Hilda Palmer conducted an online seminar about workplace suicides and including them as notifiable incidents under the United Kingdom’s Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) laws, Australia needs a similar discussion.

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Do we have to work?

You often learn more about your area of speciality from reading outside of that speciality. Matthew Taylor’s book “Do We Have To Work?” is one of those books though it overlaps with occupational health and safety (OHS), if one thinks of the role and place of OHS in modern business.

The Big Idea series of books by Thanes & Hudson uses a jaunty format that is jarring in some ways but attractive in others. Its pages use fonts of different sizes, lots of colour images and highlighted cross-references that look like a Dummies Guide on acid, but the content is so good the reader works out where to look and what to choose fairly quickly.

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