Is psychosocial harm always preventable?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) in healthcare is a unique experience. Patient care and patient safety seem to override the OHS duties for healthcare workers. This is understandable given the culture and purpose with which people work; however, it is short-sighted, especially on the issue of mental health at work.

A new book on burnout (yes, another, and there are even more) was published recently on the issue of preventing burnout for healthcare workers, written by John Halbesleben. This 2nd edition has a slightly revised title to reflect the changing emphasis on mental health at work.

Halbesleben writes that the first edition from 2009 tried to convince readers that burnout was an occupational risk. Since then, that fact is now accepted, and not just because of the coronavirus pandemic. He writes:

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Extreme heat

Global warming is affecting how we work just as much as how we live. Working in Heat policies are designed based on experience rather than meteorological and climate forecasts, meaning these documents are always chasing reality and not getting ahead of the occupational hazard.

On January 19, 2023, Steven Greenhouse (coincidental name) looked at the topic of working in extreme for Nieman Reports writing that:

“High heat can be a big problem for the nation’s workers, not just farmworkers and construction workers, but delivery workers, utility workers, landscaping workers, and warehouse workers.”

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Mental health book should be influential due to lack of bullshit

Some of the recent guidance on mental health at work from occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators is not scintillating or even engaging. Their purpose is to provide information with the hope it is presented in a workplace by someone super-communicative and influential. (C’mon, really? We’re talking about OHS here.)

Luckily there is a recent easy-to-read book of fewer than 150 pages that reads like a conversation over a single afternoon with the reader about Mental Health At Work.

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Don’t mention profit

The primacy of profit to employers is an accepted truth. However, the size of the profit and the pathway to those profits are not absolutes, and it is in this latter context that occupational health and safety (OHS) lives.

Even though profit is a business truth, it is often a word that business representatives seem to fear. They speak of profit through synonyms like “productivity” and “competitiveness”. An example of this timidity or wariness was displayed recently by prominent businessman Michael Angwin in an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review (paywalled) that contained many other cautious words of business jargon. Angwin misses the harm to workers and others generated by the world as he sees it.

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Sometimes marketing gets in the way of OHS information

The internet and social media are peppered with articles that are ostensibly about occupational health and safety (OHS) and psychosocial health and wellbeing but are really marketing exercises. These things pop up frequently on LinkedIn. A recent example is from Lyra Health called “Workforce Mental Health Trends for 2023: Top 3 Predictions“. You can see from the title why I would be interested in obtaining the full survey report.

I chose not to download the company’s survey for the following reasons.

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C-Suite is disinterested in OHS

Consulting firm KPMG has released its annual survey report on the concerns of corporate executives called “Keeping us up at night – The big issues facing business leaders in 2023”. Occupational health and safety (OHS) fails to get a mention. (So much for the attitudinal impact of Industrial Manslaughter laws!) But then neither does “mental health” nor “sexual harassment“.

The KPMG report may accurately reflect executive priorities, but it may also reflect a denial of reality.

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The wicked problem of the safety of shearers and the viability of sheep farming

Shearing sheep is an exhausting laborious job and so can cause work-related injuries for which workers’ compensation can be sought. The Weekly Times on January 4 2023 (paywalled) devoted a whole page to the issue in an article headlined “The shear cost of it all”. (Only a companion piece is available online at the time of writing)

The aim of the article seems to be to illustrate the exorbitant and unfair workers’ compensation costs faced by the employers of shearers, but some relevant occupational health and safety (OHS) matters are overlooked.

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