If everyone claimed compensation for work-related stress in Australia, the estimated annual cost would be $83 billion

Lucinda Smith of Esteem People Management has made some excellent points about stress and mental health in her article – “The People Risk of Work-Related Stress“.  On determining the cost of mental stress she acknowledges authoritative government estimates but, significantly, states of the data:

“Although not fully exploring the issue of workplace stress because it only applies to accepted claims,…”

This is the core of much of the frustration in the OHS profession that injury and illness is always underestimated because data is based on workers’ compensation statistics.

Where Smith progresses the argument, though, is by comparing several important pieces of data.  Quoted in a Safe Work Australia report, Medibank Private estimated in 2008 that the direct cost of work-related stress was

“…$14.81 billion to the Australian economy, and $10.11 billion to Australian employers because of stress-related presenteeism and absenteeism.” (page 3 of the Safe Work Australia report)

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“Put the human being first”

One of the most contentious issues in safety management is the treatment of workers compensation claimants.  On 18 August 2014, a small qualitative research report into this area was launched in Melbourne.  The report, “Filling the Dark Spot: fifteen injured workers shine a light on the workers compensation system to improve it for others”* identified four themes in the workers’ stories:

  • a sense of injustice
  • a lack of control and agency
  • loss of trust, and
  • loss of identity.

These themes, or at least some of them, are increasingly appearing on the occupational health and safety (OHS) literature.  To establish a successful sustainable workplace culture, one needs to establish and maintain trust.  Workers also seem to need some degree of control, or at least influence, over their working conditions and environment.  Also workers, and managers, need to receive a fair hearing, what most would describe as “natural justice”.

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Fear of exposure rather than pride in their work

Due diligence” is an established business management concept that only recently came to be applied to occupational health and safety (OHS) in Australia through the Work Health and Safety (WHS) harmonisation process.  It’s credibility comes from the Corporations Act, principally, but also Consumer Protection and, partly, Environmental laws.

iStock_000015900242SmallThe attention given by OHS/WHS professionals and senior executives to due diligence is already changing how workplace safety is managed in a positive way but recently the

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WHS, performance indicators, annual reports and other thoughts

Macquarie University researcher Sharron O’Neill is traveling around Australia refining, through consultation and seminars, her research into Work Health and Safety (WHS) Due Diligence. In a Melbourne seminar this week O’Neill, and her colleague, Karen Wolfe,  provided thought-provoking discussions on three principal areas:

  • Due Diligence,
  • Performance Indicators, and
  • Reporting.

Below are some of my thoughts that they provoked.

WHS Due Diligence

WHS Due Diligence is still a poorly understood concept.  Part of the reason is that the major explainers of due diligence seem to be, predominantly, labour lawyers who, not surprisingly, emphasis the legal requirements and origins rather than the safety elements and application.  There are few safety professionals who are explaining due diligence; rather they are discussing OHS/WHS in the context of due diligence.

One colleague explained how an established organisation employed her as their first dedicated OHS professional around the same time as due diligence was being discussed  as part of the national OHS harmonisation process.  By looking through the company’s existing system of work,

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“sit less, move more, and move more often”

Patient (putting his hand up above his head): “Doctor, Doctor, it hurts whenever I do this. “

Doctor: “Well stop doing that.”

This joke scenario implies that some of the advice in medicine is common sense.  If something hurts, stop.  This simple logic can extend to most professions, including safety.

Business Man Pointing Empty Whiteboard OutdoorsOn August 3 2014, the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) published a perspective on the hazards of sedentary work.  The report has excellent medical evidence on the potential harm of sitting for too long.  The advice to reduce risk is simply to get up and move about.

Was such research needed?  The glib response is that research is always needed, particularly into what people think is common sense or into those ideas and actions that are entrenched and seem “self-evident” and on which some of our basic social or work institutions are based.

MJA’s article written by a leading physiotherapy academic,

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