Medical and OHS sectors must start speaking the same language on mental health

For many years, the Australian medical has been supportive of a “Health Benefits of Good Work” (HBGW) initiative. This initiative, started in 2010, is directly relevant to how Australia is determining its mental health policy and strategies especially as they relate to workplaces. The initiative was developed by:

“…. the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP). This initiative is based on compelling Australasian and international evidence that good work is beneficial to people’s health and wellbeing and that long term work absence, work disability and unemployment generally have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.”

This initiative can be seen behind many of the public statements about the mental health status of the unemployed as this sits within the public health and the social welfare sectors, but it is rarely mentioned by those providing occupational health and safety (OHS) advice.

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Language, labels, thoughts and restraints

Carsten Busch is a committed voice for improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) and our understanding of it. Recently he published a research paper entitled “Brave New World: Can Positive Developments in Safety Science and Practice also have Negative Sides?” (open access). The paper is of note for several reasons, not including the use Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” a book about a dystopia that many Australian high school students in the 1970s were required to read.

Dystopian novels suit the study of OHS as the structure often reflects a character with new experiences of an unfamiliar culture or an awakening or realisation of their place in the world. Brave New World fits the former and George Orwell’s 1984, the latter. OHS professionals often step into a workplace culture that is foreign to what they have understood to be the norm. They evaluate the new culture, find it wanting and suggest repairs, if they can. Over time some OHS professionals, often through an epiphany, realise that they have not achieved what they expected and either leave or turn on the OHS discipline. Some OHS professionals are able to blend both these experiences and perspectives.

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Hopkins challenges safety culture advocates to look at structure

One of the major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australian has been Andrew Hopkins. His influence comes from a combination of being outside the formal OHS profession and establishing a platform that is inclusive of information from a range of sources. In short he is a sociologist.

Hopkins’ latest book has just been released. “Organising for Safety – How structure creates culture” is a radical departure to his previous books about organisational culture. Here Hopkins questions whether cultural change is the gradual spreading of new ideas and instead proposes that

“… the culture of an organisation is determined to a large extent by its organisational structure.”

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He also mentions power, a concept rarely discussed in OHS and almost entirely left to exist in sociology (Oh, the need for more Humanities study!). Power pops up in Human Resources but not to the same extent.

Hopkins also refers to, and creates, organisational charts that were in place at the time of a disaster and then to the reorganised structures after the disasters. Hopkins discusses how those new structures are in direct response to the new understanding of risk from the CEOs and Boards.

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Rotting fish and leadership

Free Access

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has been obsessed by Leadership for a long time. Leadership is important to establish safe and health workplaces but there is certainly a lot more to change than waiting for the boss to see the light. In many of these discussions, someone will use this phrase to emphasize the importance of leadership:

A fish rots first from the head

This is a biologically suspicious statement that SafetyAtWorkBlog has been eying to verify or dismiss for several years, unsuccessfully. A new fact checking website site drawing on the scientific community has been established and SafetyAtWorkBlog recently posed this question to www.metafact.io:

Does a fish rot from the head?

Let’s see what the experts say but in the meantime, please post your thoughts and comments on the question below.

Kevin Jones

Exclusive interview with independent WHS reviewer, Marie Boland

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to interview Marie Boland earlier this week after the release of her review into Australia’s Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. Below is an edited version of that interview.

Marie, thanks for talking to me, it’s a terrific report you’ve produced. What was it like to undertake a national investigation of this type, given that it was pretty much you and just a couple of others?

…It was quite daunting at the beginning, but as I said in the introduction and nothing kind of clichéd about it, it was very much a privilege to be able to do it.  And the privilege was enhanced by having the opportunity to go travel all around Australia, and some places I’ve never been before like Tamworth and what it really brought home to me was the diversity of people, workplaces, geography and that these laws are covering and the diversity of people who are dealing with the laws on a daily basis.  So, it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience for me I suppose, and maybe a point in history for the laws as well.

I was very much aware throughout the process of my privilege and being able to do it and also the waves of expectation I suppose and this being the first review of the national laws and also very much aware of all the work that went into creating the laws in the first place.  And certainly, a lot of the people who put so much effort into that work were still obviously very keen on how they were being applied and as I said I was very conscious of respecting all of that as I went around the country.

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