Make sure you are serious about deeper and better thinking on workplace mental health

In October 2018, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported (paywalled) on an occupational health and safety (OHS) investigation into overwork and staff fatigue being conducted by WorkSafe Victoria. The AFR has followed this with a report on June 6 2019 (paywalled) by its Legal Affairs Editor, Michael Pelly. It is a positive article about how the law firm, King, Wood & Mallesons (KWM) has improved its OHS performance since October last year. However there is much between the lines that hints at the OHS approach used and how limited it is.

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A strong safety conference

The Safety Institute of Australia continues to rebuild its member services, its finances and its reputation. In fact, it is so confident in its future that it has changed its name and brand to reflect this path. From July 2019 it will be known as the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS). A critical element of the SIA/AIHS strategy is it national conference, the second of which was held in Sydney at the end of May 2019, and it is worth asking whether the conference matched the Institute’s renewed pathway.

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The party politics of safety

The Safety Institute of Australia, commendably, approached the major political parties running in Australia’s current federal election campaign. Only the Australian Labor Party (ALP) responded to the SIA, but the policy documents of the Australian Greens and Liberal and National Parties are available online and their relevance to occupational health and safety (OHS) deserves attention.

The ALP information should be familiar to SafetyAtWorkBlog readers:

• “Show national leadership and meet with work, health and safety ministers from across Australia in the second half of this year to decide on the best course of action of the recommendations to come out of the Boland review.
• Work with state and territory governments to implement a harmonised industrial manslaughter offence.
• Establish a national advisory committee made up of representatives from each state and territory who have been personally impacted by a serious workplace injury or death to develop recommendations for federal, state and territory governments to act upon.”

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Good, but very limited, advice on workplace mental health

Member magazines, those magazines included in a professional’s membership, are an important source of information. Members of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, for instance, receive the RoyalAuto magazine which is really the primary source of information on changes to road rules. Most occupational health and safety (OHS) associations have internal magazines for a similarly targeted audience. Australian accountants have the In The Black magazine.

Recently In The Black published an article about mental health at work titled “Get smart with mental health”. No background to the author, Helen Hawkes, was provided and no references were included for the data used to support statements about the importance of the mental health. Context and sources are important to all articles but arguably moreso for member magazines and, especially, for professionals like accountants who can have a major impact on how OHS is managed.

Much of the information in the article would be familiar to OHS professionals – Return on Investment, the cost of Presenteeism as a percentage of payroll…. What is almost entirely missing is advice on how to prevent mental ill-health from occurring in the first place, and there is no mention of any of the OHS guidance in this area published by Safe Work Australia.

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Answers and clues on workplace bullying and mental health in a small package

Talking about occupational health and safety (OHS) is a critical element so explaining the concept but also strengthening OHS as more and more people understand its socio-economic and organisational context. Sometime this is done through newsletters from OHS Regulators, sometimes by large and/or expensive conferences. Sometimes all of this still fails to reach the right audience.

Mark Stipic, Antony Malmo and Michael Plowright

Last week a small seminar was held in the Melbourne suburb of Mulgrave. That seminar was no more than 90 minutes and provided advice from three experts in OHS-related topics related to workplace bullying. These were the psychology of workplace bullying, the management and prevention of it and workers compensation for the resultant mental ill-health.

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