Looks good but could be better

The Australian Financial Review on October 1 2019 contained an exclusive report on consulting firm (paywalled) Deloitte’s approach to mental health at work matters coinciding with National Safe Work Month. The original document is unlikely to be publicly released but Edmund Tadros‘ report provides some quotes and insights. The initiative seems very positive until you consider it in light of organisational changes recommended to control and prevent this psychological hazards from Safe Work Australia (SWA) guidance.

Tadros quotes Deloitte’s Australian CEO Richard Deutsch:

“Mr Deutsch said in the message that individual differences could mean “what I find stressful you may find motivating, and vice versa. I don’t want anyone to feel their health and wellbeing is compromised because of work”.

This broad statement fits with the employer’s duties under occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, so it’s a good start. But doubts about the strategy start to emerged when Deutsch mentions workload, a contentious issue for Deloitte’s junior staff:

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Does “Meaningful Work” mean anything useful?

In September 2019 an Australian recruiting firm, Beaumont People, has commissioned a research project to identify what constitutes meaningful work. The company places meaningful work in the context of at least one of the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals (SDGs) – Decent Work and Economic Growth, but it is difficult to understand what is meant by “meaningful work”. Couldn’t the survey have used the UN Decent Work criteria?

The Beaumont People website says this of Meaningful Work:

“Meaningful Work is the importance an individual places on their work meeting their current personal beliefs, values, goals, expectations, and purpose in the context of their social and cultural environment.

Despite the vast amount of research undertaken on the concept and measurement of meaningful work, there remains no consistent definition of meaningful work nor consensus on the scales designed to measure it.”

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Australian silicosis research mirrored in the US

At the end of October 2019 the Australia New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) will be conducting its annual scientific meeting in Adelaide. There are many issues on the agenda but silicosis is likely to figure prominently as it did last year, and as it should. The politics, knowledge and regulatory action has changed in the intervening twelve months.

Australia has new guidances from several occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators and agencies which restrict or ban dry-cutting of engineered stone and change other safety-related practices. There is also at least one political move to ban the use of engineered stone. But perhaps more important is that new research on silicosis risks is appearing and not just from Australia. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new research on 27 September 2019 based on medical assessments and several silicosis-related deaths.

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Bystanders, safety hazards and prevention of harm – “what you do or don’t do”

Occupational health and safety (OHS) relies on workers to “blow the whistle” on the existence of hazards to their employers, even though the process is not considered whistleblowing. The avoidance of many workplace hazards has always relied on bystanders – one’s work colleagues who may say “watch out!” In recent years, the action of notifying employers and authorities of hazards, and of drawing colleagues’ attention to0 hazards has increased in prominence and debate, especially around the issue of psychological harm and, a subset of that harm – sexual harassment.

In September 2019, the Victorian Government released what it describes as a toolkit on bystander interventions in relation to sexual harassment and sexism. The full document is useful but, as with many government guidances on this issue, almost ignores the role of health and safety management in the prevention and reduction of this type of hazard.

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Small packages, big info

Face-to-Face communication trumps electronic communication every time. This is true for telling stories to trauma counselling to telling someone you love them.

Prof. Michael Quinlan and Alena Titterton Akins at the 2019 Tasmania Health & Safety Symposium

Sixty delegates attended the one-day occupational health and safety (OHS) symposium in Tasmania yesterday. These symposia seem to be the modern equivalent of the traditional conference, especially in Australia, and offer the opportunity for better conversations about OHS. This format still has some need for refinement but it seems more informative than a lecture and less confusing than a multi-streamed big conference of thousands of people.

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