No one seems to know why farm deaths have declined

This week’s Weekly Times, a major Australian agriculture newspaper, is reporting the good news that work-related deaths on farms have declined (not available online). The numbers from Safe Work Australia are positive, but the analysis of the reasons for the decline is thin.

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New international and local workplace data should cause a reassessment of national OHS strategies

Earlier this week, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released new data showing that in 2019:

“According to the latest estimates developed by the ILO and covering the year 2019, over 395 million workers worldwide sustained a non-fatal work injury.”

More research on global work-related deaths has been released. This time, it was through the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health and with regional data breakdowns. This latest report includes some important statistical data about psychosocial exposures at work.

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UK workplace survey shows the huge misunderstanding on preventing psychosocial harm

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) has released an important survey of their members about health and wellbeing at work. Amongst many of the findings is that “Stress continues to be one of the main causes of absence” and that “Heavy workloads remain by far the most common cause of stress-related absence…” So how are CIPD members reducing the heavy workloads? They’re not. 78% of respondents are using Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to “identify and reduce stress”. Options like hiring additional staff or reducing the workload do not even chart. OMG!

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OHS and exploitation

Work-related harm is often generated by exploitation, but exploitation is a term rarely used by the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession. If it was, the OHS approach to harm prevention may be very different, especially now that a safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental right.

Perhaps the omission of exploitation is not that surprising. It is often seen through the lens of industrial relations, and a flexible demarcation often exists between IR and OHS. It is important to note that the International Labour Organisation’s Glossary of OSH terms also fails to include exploitation though it is from 1993.

However, a recent report from the Grattan Institute, Short-changed: How to stop the exploitation of migrant workers in Australia, does discuss workplace health and safety as an element of worker exploitation.

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When an increase of 0.5 percentage points is described as an outrageous 43% increase

This week the Victorian Government flagged changes to the workers’ compensation premiums and eligibility. This has generated outrage from business lobby groups and the trade unions, and as he is being criticised by both political extremes, Premier Dan Andrews believes his decision, i.e. being hated by everyone, is a winner.

The Age newspaper was one of the first to report (paywalled) on the announcement of these changes on May 19, 2023. Significantly it included a quote from Dr Mary Wyatt on the economic and social importance of injury prevention. Hers has been one of the few mentions of the role of good occupational health and safety (OHS) management.

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Mental health at work –  “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

Psychological health in the workplace seems to be a recent phenomenon because various Australian jurisdictions are strengthening prevention and management strategies through legislative amendments. This is supported by the World Health Organization’s definition of burnout as an occupational phenomenon. But psychological or psychosocial health and safety at work was a concern last century.  In fact, The Australian Psychological Society conducted the First National Conference on Occupational Stress in June 1994, and the book, edited by the late Dr Peter Cotton, based on the papers and presentations from the conference, remains remarkably topical and absent of the well-being language and spin that we have been exposed to since.

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Hubris, thy name is HR

The Human Resources (HR) sector often feeds off itself, reinforcing what it has always done, rather than seriously looking at opportunities to improve from outside its own experience and discipline. Workplace mental health is a particular example.

Recently the Human Resources Director (HRD) website promoted a new well-being survey from AON with the headline:

“Want to boost company performance? Invest more in wellbeing – Higher wellbeing scores can enhance performance by up to 55%: Aon report”

My initial response was WTF?! But after giving up some of my identity data to the website and reading the AON Report. My surprise diminished as I realised the report was just another example of comforting a profession on a workplace issue about which it is losing control.

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