On psychosocial hazards, HR and OHS are getting closer……. slowly

In narrow terms, the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession has largely neglected the management of psychological harm in workplaces. Human Resources (HR) has been the “go-to” on this issue, but various government inquiries have identified major shortcomings in the HR approach. In a recent podcast, Tony Morris of law firm Ashurst interviewed an HR and OHS professional on sexual harassment and psychosocial risks at work.

In response to the question of whether these risks are no being accepted as work health and safety risks, Julia Sutherland responded that this reality has been accepted by OHS regulators but implies that the acceptance has not been to the same extent by employers. She reassures employers who have not been approaching these hazards through OHS laws and guidance that they should not be alarmed as the OHS context has only existed for “a couple of years”.

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Will workplace psychological regulations work?

Recently the Victorian Government released its proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations supported by a 106-page Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) written by Deloitte Access Economics. Public consultation and submissions are welcome up to the end of March 2022.

These regulations have been promised by the Victorian Government for some time and are likely to be debated in Parliament later in this (election) year. The RIS raises substantial questions, but the Regulations stem from primarily a political decision, so those political promises need to be examined.

This is the first of a series of articles on psychological health and the proposed regulations over the next few days.

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WorkSafe Victoria’s new Mental Health Strategy is good but constrained

WorkSafe Victoria has launched a “Mental Health Strategy” aimed at preventing mental health at work. It is a good strategy that is hampered by its jurisdictional constraints. There is plenty of evidence on the causes of mental ill-health at work and what is required to prevent this hazard. Many of these controls exist outside the workplace, beyond the realm of any one government organisation, so it is disappointing that the Victorian Government did not release a Statewide mental health plan, especially as it has a Minister for Mental Health in James Merlino.

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OHS remains the bastard child of HR and IR

There continues to be a competitive tension in Australia between the professions (if they are professions) of Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS). This has been most obviously on display in relation to sexual harassment and the psychological harm that results.

Recently Marie Boland, about to be the 2021 Residential Thinker at the University of South Australia, spoke about this tension and much more in an online lecture about “HR: A Human Resources or a Human Rights approach to work health and safety“. At that lecture, Boland said that she pins her hopes for improvement on the new Work Health and Safety Regulations because

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Diagnosis is the key

Part 2 of 2

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has reported on “mental health conditions” in its latest report on workers compensation claims and that these conditions represent 9% of claims for the 2018-2019 period (page 20). Claims have also increased in this category from 6,615 in 2000-2001 to over 10,000 in the latest data period. Mental health conditions are described elsewhere by SWA as affecting non-physical bodily locations (page 38).

As with many other reports, “mental health conditions” are not defined, but SWA states that this phrase is an alternative to “psychological injuries”. It also gives a numerical and dollar value to these conditions:

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Are “mental health conditions” good or bad?

Part 1 of 2

Many organisations provide support for those experiencing mental health conditions, in workplaces particularly. These are important services; some have filled the gap left by the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and regulators who neglected psychological health to prioritise traumatic physical injuries. But what is meant by “mental health conditions”? SafetyAtWorkBlog went on a short desktop journey to find out.

On 14 October 2021, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a report called “Small Business, Mental Health; navigating the complex landscape“. Part of that complexity stems from the confusing terminology about “psychosocial health” and “workplace mental health”. The ACCI says:

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Job insecurity and OHS solutions

As well as featuring in a workplace psychology podcast Professor Tony LaMontagne spoke at the current Senate Select Committee on Job Security in Australia and made a submission that provides evidence of the connection between job insecurity and poor mental health. This strengthens the argument that the prevention of mental health at work (and maybe elsewhere) could be more sustainably achieved by structural and economic policies and practices outside of the direct control of employers.

LaMontagne’s submission (written with Dr Tania King and Ms Yamna Taouk) says:

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