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!
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.
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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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.
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.
“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.
According to the abstract of a recent piece of research from Canada:
“Financial benefits combined estimates of the tangible financial benefits arising from averted disabling work-related injury and illness and intangible financial benefits associated with improved employee retention and morale, improved production quality and strengthened corporate reputation. Applying these plausible assumptions, the average return on OHS expenditures was 1.24 for 289 manufacturing employers, 2.14 for 56 transportation employers and 1.34 for 88 construction employers.”
One can froth up about the Return on Investment (ROI) figures, which are notable, but of interest was the mix of tangible and intangible factors in the equation.
Australia’s newspapers have recently reported on the moves by the Federal Government to review the safety and working conditions of the country’s truck drivers. As expected, The Australian newspaper is painting this as the Government paying back its ideological and financial backers – the trade unions – and the resurrection of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), even though the Government denies this will happen.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) sits behind some elements of the debate. As with most things OHS, it will not be a game-changer in a discussion over pay rates and minimum standards, but it is a serious consideration, and deservedly so.