Workplace suicide at one of the “Big 4” consulting firms (Open Access)

Warning: this article discusses suicides

Discussions about workplace mental health are everywhere, including this blog, but workplace suicides are less discussed even though there is a direct connection between the two themes. This is due to the continuing stigmatisation of suicide, legal caution, reputational preservation and other factors. It is difficult to write about but necessary to do so.

Recently an EY (formerly Ernst Young) employee died at work after a work function. Some media has reported on this tragic incident, but EY has been under media scrutiny for some time about its workplace culture.

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SafeWorkSA’s approach to psychological harm is as much as it can do but doesn’t have to be

The harm presented by working in Australia’s mining sector has been a concern for a long time. Over the last decade or two, the psychosocial harm from the same work has come to the fore. The occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibility sits clearly with the employers who, in Australia, are often well-resourced national and international corporations. Recently SafeWorkSA issued a media release entitled “Sexual harassment in mining sparks campaign“. SafetyAtWorkBlog took the opportunity to put some questions to the South Australia OHS agency, to which it has responded.

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New mental health code and regulations

Last week Safe Work Australia released its “Managing psychosocial hazards at work – Code of Practice“. It offers solid guidance on psychosocial hazards reflective of the work already conducted by Victoria, New South Wales and other jurisdictions and in support of the new regulations in the Model Work Health and Safety laws. In connection with a blog article earlier today, the Code provides some insight into cognitive demands.

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“There is too little time and the ask is too big to try to change the system”.

There are many similarities between the management of occupational health and safety (OHS) and environment protection. Both seek to prevent and/or mitigate harm, and both have similarly focussed legislation. However, this similarity extends to vulnerabilities in each approach. Neither discipline is solely responsible for the lack of progress in prevention and protection, but both have not realised their potential for change.

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Improving the OHS state of knowledge

Earlier today, I wrote about the potential benefits of having an Australian Workplace Safety Bureau, an idea I first proposed in 2018. Others have similar thoughts.

On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) website, Elizabeth Byrne has written about the decade-long effort of Kay Catanzariti to gain justice, and an apology, for the death of her son, Ben. Catanzariti has been a strong advocate for workplace health and safety for a long time. The ABC article quotes Catanzariti:

“Mrs Catanzariti says her experience shows that investigators need more expertise. “I want a federal investigation team for deaths on worksites,” she says.”

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COVID-19 lessons are more likely to come from an independent investigation than from OHS prosecutions

WorkSafe Victoria has a window of two years, within which it must start a prosecution for breaches of the occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation. As a result, a small number of notable prosecutions commenced recently from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, Worksafe has started court action against St Basil’s Homes For The Aged, Heritage Care Pty Ltd and an individual nurse.

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Do what you know is the right thing to do

Currently, Australia has an increase in hospitalisations of people with the latest COVID-19 variants and influenza. The Victorian Government, in particular, is resisting implementing a mandatory requirement for masks even though this Winter had been flagged as a season of high risk for transmissible infections, and such control measures were shown to be effective in previous years.

Regardless of the politics in the Victorian Government’s decision, and there is a lot of politics there with an election in November, what should employers do to reduce the risks of workers catching or transmitting the virus, and so maintain continuous operation and production?

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