Michael Tooma is probably the most prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer in Australia. His latest book is, a little pretentiously, called “Michael Tooma on Mental Health“, but it fits with the series of OHS-related publications he has written for Wolters Kluwer. Unusually for a lawyer, there are only two chapters that specifically discuss legislative obligations, and, in many ways, these are the least interesting.
Positive Mental Health
In the Introduction, Tooma goes out of his way to stress the positive benefits of work. He is critical of the current OHS approach to workplace stress writing that we seek a “Goldilocks” application of perfection when this is really subjectively determined by each worker. Tooma challenges this in a major way through the 2012 study by Keller and others:
On May 15 2020, the Australian Government released a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan. Mental Health has been on Prime Minister Morrison’s agenda since his election a year ago and the mental health sector is not going to be starved of government funds during his tenure.
Mental ill-health has been talked about throughout the current COVID19 Pandemic and has been forecast to increase due to the economic disruption and the requirements for social isolation. To some extent, the low numbers of COVID19 deaths in Australia has allowed it a “luxury” of addressing mental health, but some of the justifications seem not as strong as claimed and the National Mental Health Plan omits any consideration of occupational health and safety (OHS) other than for those in the health industry; the so-called “frontline workers”.
On May 11 2020, the Australian Financial Review’s back page ran an article (paywalled)about how “corporates” are becoming aware of mental health risks due to the COVID19 disruption. It is a good article but also one that reveals the dominant misunderstanding about mental health at work and how to prevent it.
It is a common response by businesses and governments to respond to an incident or an issue by imposing a new level of control. Over time, this leads to confusion, clutter and a perception that action is more complex than it could be. Responses to work-related suicide are a good example of this and the recent announcement by the Australian Government of a permanent National Commission into veteran suicides is the latest, but it needs to be more than what has gone before.
On April 14, 2020, the Australian Industry Group revealed, in a media release, some details of how its members were responding to the COVID19 pandemic. The survey was described as economic research and, as occupational health and safety (OHS) is mentioned, SafetyAtWorkBlog asked from more details on the OHS-related findings.
The survey found:
“There has been a steep rise in workload as a result of new OH&S policies and procedures around hygiene (34%) and working from home (25%).”
“Employees are also anxious, with 31% of businesses saying there is increased anxiety levels within their workforce.”