Tooma on Mental Health – Review

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:

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Running before you can walk on COVID19 and Mental Health

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”.

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If staff are “going to hit the wall”, redesign the wall

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.

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Final Sexual Harassment Inquiry report

“The Sex Discrimination Commissioner has come out with something that is clear, which is that sexual harassment is a workplace right, is a health and safety right, is a human right.” [??!!]

What would be more accurate and reflective of Michele O’Neil’s position is that workers have a human, health and safety, and workplace right to a workplace that is without the risk of sexual harassment.  The ACTU President gets the message right in the official media release.

O’Neill urges the Morrison Government to take the final report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and its recommendations seriously and it should, but the signs are not good.  The mainstream media coverage of the Workplace Sexual Harassment Inquiry’s report has been thin. 

Continue reading “Final Sexual Harassment Inquiry report”

Resilience training remains contentious

The issue of resilience training and its role in managing workplace mental health continues to confuse at a recent mental health conference.

Yesterday, several experts were critical of resilience training or, more accurately, the over-reliance on worker-focussed interventions when evidence shows that more sustainable benefits are obtainable by addressing the structural factors leading to poor mental health at work. One of the experts specifically said that resilience training may be relevant to emergency services workers where their workplaces are so dynamic that it is almost impossible to anticipate mental health hazards.

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What does a psychological near miss look like?

This week a workplace mental conference has been running in Sydney with some excellent speakers. The theme is to improve integrated approaches to workplace mental health in the belief that progress can be most effective when workplace silos and professional disciplines share information and actively listen.

However, resistance to change continues and silos continue to exist even if the interconnecting bridges are half-formed. One half-formed bridge was illustrated when I put this question to a panel discussion:

“What does a psychological near-miss look like?”

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Government responds to the mental health risks of emergency service workers

In 2018/19 one of Australia’s Senate Committees looked at the mental health of emergency responders. The final report was handed down in February 2019 and the government’s response has been released today, twelve months later (?!). Lucky the government delayed as it allowed the Response to mention the 2019/20 bushfires even though this was outside the timeline of the Committee’s inquiry.

Emergency Responders, as do frontline soldiers, face unique psychological risks from their duties, so there are some recommendations that are difficult for those outside the sector to relate to but looking at the Response gives an insight into the thinking about occupational health and safety (OHS), and especially workplace mental health risks, of the Australian government. That thinking may be summarised by the Government supporting only one of the fourteen recommendations, noting five of them and supporting “in principle” the rest.

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