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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Family violence at work, looking at trees instead of forest

Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, has released a media statement about the occupational health and safety (OHS) context of family violence, referencing a WorkSafe Victoria guidance note from January 2018.

Hennessy is quoted saying:

“Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees – and that includes doing whatever they can to support workers experiencing family violence.”

But what level or type of support is expected from employers? Family violence is damaging and insidious but also a crime. It is also a subset, or maybe a special type, of workplace violence as is evident by WorkSafe’s reference to its broader violence publication at the end of the family violence guidance note. The publication, A guide for employers Preventing and responding to work-related violence, outlines the employers duty of care, which includes prevention.

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Steady as she goes in Victoria

The annual Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) breakfast was held at the Melbourne offices of Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). As has become a tradition, a spokesperson for WorkSafe Victoria was the feature presenter and this year that was the very recently appointed Executive Director of Health and Safety, Julie Nielsen. HSF’s Steve Bell also provided an update on OHS laws and national Work Health and Safety (WHS) changes.

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Business groups miss the target on sexual harassment

Two business associations have released the submissions they provided to Australia’s National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces – the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Australian Industry Group (AiG). These submissions have been eagerly anticipated as these two groups are politically influential.

ACCI has based its submission on 13 “principles”:

  • Employers oppose sexual harassment
  • Sexual harassment is not good business
  • More Australians need to be able to recognise sexual harassment
  • We need to improve the attitudes Australians bring to work
  • The law needs to support employers in turning values into action
  • We need to recognise/reward learning and change
  • Individuals must be made more accountable for their own behaviour
  • Greater effectiveness does not demand more law
  • Regulation needs to be smart, simple, clear and balanced to be effective
  • Jurisdictional overlap / repetition detracts from effectiveness
  • Businesses have differing capacities and cultures
  • Sexual harassment can be challenging to manage
  • This is a moving target; new sexual harassment risks are emerging

Each one of these sound positive but can be argued over. For instance “sexual harassment can be challenging to manage”. This is less of a principle than a reason, or even an excuse. Sexual harassment is complex to manage as it is not just about poor relationships, it involves a sexual element which involves power and disrespect; power that is sometimes misinterpreted as leadership or part of a manager’s entitlement.

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