Political point-scoring misses the point

Last week the Australian Financial Review (AFR) caused a bit of a political stink by reporting that:

“….Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the share of casual employment was 22.8 per cent in February – 1.3 percentage points lower than in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the economy.
The casualisation rate is 4.8 percentage points below the peak of 27.6 per cent in 2003.”

AFR, April 12 2022 – Albanese’s casual jobs claim is ‘wrong’, according to ABS data

The figures seem accurate but do not tell the whole story. How are employment statistics relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS)? Job insecurity is a significant factor in work-related mental health.

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Is red tape justified?

One of the interesting features of the Psychological Health regulations proposed by the Victorian Government last month is the requirement for employers to provide regular six-monthly reports on psychological incidents.

The Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) states that:

“…the proposed regulatory amendments will require employers to keep written records of prevention plans for prescribed psychosocial hazards and impose reporting requirements on medium and large employers.”

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Good solid OHS profile on which to base a change strategy

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) recently released its latest State of Work Health and Safety in Australia 2021 report called “Work Shouldn’t Hurt“. ACTU’s Liam O’Brien said

“The ACTU’s 2021 Work Shouldn’t Hurt Survey revealed that 80% of workers who are injured or made ill at work do not even make a workers’ compensation claim, in the case of insecure workers this jumps to 95%. This highlights that the 120,000 workers who made a claim last year is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to measuring health and safety at work”

This is no surprise to those concerned with occupational health and safety (OHS). Sadly, the ACTU report was thin on possible solutions.

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WorkSafe Victoria’s new Mental Health Strategy is good but constrained

WorkSafe Victoria has launched a “Mental Health Strategy” aimed at preventing mental health at work. It is a good strategy that is hampered by its jurisdictional constraints. There is plenty of evidence on the causes of mental ill-health at work and what is required to prevent this hazard. Many of these controls exist outside the workplace, beyond the realm of any one government organisation, so it is disappointing that the Victorian Government did not release a Statewide mental health plan, especially as it has a Minister for Mental Health in James Merlino.

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Suicides and historic data

Recently Safe Work Australia (SWA) released an excellent batch of occupational health and safety (OHSA) information in its annual “Key WHS Statistics – Australia 2021″. The decline in fatalities is significant, but there remains an odd omission that is worrying the longer it is not addressed – work-related suicides.

Limiting the statistical period also has implications for how OHS is understood and for the rate of change.

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Frogging the National OHS Strategy

Australia has commenced its consultation process for the development of its next ten-year national occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy. These are peculiar documents as no one ever seems to be punished for not achieving the targets or the performance targets are so narrow or general that it is impossible to not achieve them.

One of the elements that all such strategies seek is “emerging hazards”. Even harder is when they seek hazards that no one else has considered or have yet to emerge. One of the challenges with these strategies is less about what they say than how they are implemented and enforced.

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What is behind the fluctuation of mental health claims?

If you are contemplating running a survey about workplace health and safety, make it longitudinal. That is, structure your survey so that data can be compared over a long period of time by clearly defining your questions to the general rather than the topical. Topical questions can be included occasionally (they can freshen up a survey), but the core of the survey needs to be robust.

Recently Safe Work Australia (SWA) released the 6th edition of workers compensation claim data for psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australia. It is a short statement of data that offers some interesting trends and continues the survey’s limitations.

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