The two extremes of managing burnout

Two new books about burnout arrived on my doorstep this week. They could not be more different. They reflect the mess of approaches to this type of psychosocial injury. Only one provides valid, useful evidence and advice.

Bev Aisbett released a book that I found unreadable – partly because of the advice offered but mostly because of the atrocious formatting where she YELLS almost all the time in the most annoying social media way. Below is a random example.

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Notable books on safety and work

This end-of-year list is more complex than one of unread books because of the qualitative elements. In writing this article, off-the-cuff, I thought of the three or four books that I could readily remember reading in 2022; those that stuck in my mind for several reasons.

The book that most readily comes to mind from 2022 is the Jessie Singer book “There are no Accidents“. Singer makes the same point as many occupational health and safety (OHS) people have – accidents are not an “act of God”. There is always a cause IF we choose to look. There is always a social, corporate, economic of ethical environment that either encourages or fails to discourage decisions that can lead to harm.

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The bubble has burst. Bring on the next one.

The legal action by Self-Employed Australia’s Ken Phillips to hold the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, ministers and senior bureaucrats accountable for COVID-19-related deaths stemming from the failure of the hotel quarantine program appears to have failed. At least it has in the courts, fringe community and political views still exist saying that Andrews should be pursued for murder or industrial manslaughter.

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Some good presenters, some great, but OHS conferences need more work

What was missing most from the recent conference of the Asia Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organisation was a strong Asia-Pacific voice. Certainly, there were presentations by Asian OHS professionals and some westerners working in Asia, but the keynote speakers were almost from Anglo-European cultures. This made it hard to understand if the conference was designed for Asian safety and health professionals to learn from us or for Australians to learn from them. Perhaps it was just for all of us to learn as a profession.

Some of the keynote speakers offered universal suggestions for improving the management of workplace health and safety, but perhaps these were so universal as to be generic or safe. For instance, one of the greatest challenges for the Asian region, in particular, is ensuring the safety of migrant workers. There was one mention of the deaths of the World Cup construction workers, and that was in passing.

Below is a summary of the conference and some of the occupational health and safety issues (OHS) raised.

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Governments could improve their OHS performance if they wanted

In 2019, the head of SafeWork South Australia, Martyn Campbell, told this blog that he agreed that government departments should be exemplars in occupational health and safety and that “we should be the pinnacle of safety professionalism and leadership”. It should not be a surprise to hear the head of an OHS regulatory agency claim this, but the origin of the question to Campbell stemmed from a review of Victoria’s OHS Act by Chris Maxwell QC in 2004.

Given the recent OHS-related scandals in various jurisdictions, which have often been related to the management of the coronavirus pandemic, it is worth reminding ourselves of the OHS performance standards that Maxwell advocated for all government departments and agencies.

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When exemplars are far from

Extensive multinational auditing and consulting firms have been hammered for the last few years over the potential conflict of both auditing and advising the same companies and a toxic workplace culture. Most companies will not be able to afford these consultants’ prices, but the conduct of the large companies, the “corporate leaders”, affects every business by setting the standards. The influence of these large companies over public (and work health and safety) policy should also be noted and is being reviewed by some governments.

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More bravery is needed on workplace mental health

The bookshops I visit often have two sections of books marked Business and Management. These categories are interchangeable for occupational health and safety (OHS) purposes, but the shopowners and/or publishers differentiate. Both categories have self-help books – leadership varieties, how to be a better manager, how to make lots of money really quickly (without apparently anyone being exploited!!). Books discussing mental health are in both categories, and three, in particular, seem to show the potential for improvement in mental health and the self-imposed limitations to achieving this.

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