The new approach to mental health at work may need a new profession

Managing psychologically healthy and safe workplaces makes me extremely nervous. I don’t think that anyone in Australia is suitably qualified to meet the new occupational health and safety (OHS) regulations and expectations imposed by OHS regulators in response to community demands and needs. Perhaps we need a new category of professional.

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Prohibition on Administrative Controls for psychological health at work

The Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) annual breakfast physically returned this month after a few years of enforced absence. It kept its traditional structure – speeches from the local OHS regulator WorkSafe Victoria, representatives from HSF and AIHS and a summary of a salary survey report focused on occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals. The presentation that made the expense worthwhile came from one of HSF’s Regional Heads of Practice, Steve Bell, concerning new regulations for psychologically healthy workplaces.

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Assessing the best places to work

On April 27 2022, a leading Australian business newspaper, the Australian Financial Review (AFR), included a supplement called the “Best Places to Work” (paywalled). I purchased a hard copy (yes, they are still available) to look for occupational health and safety (OHS) mentions.

“Best” is hard to define. It could mean safest, it could mean best paid, it could mean friendliest. Because the supplementary allocates awards for the best places to work, the judging consultants, Inventium, included its criteria. You can already guess some of the focus of the awards as Inventium is described as “Australia’s leading behavioural science consultancy”. The assessment of the applicants involves:

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Burnout causes are organisational. Who knew?

This blog has written frequently about “burnout” in workplaces, especially since the condition was defined by the World Health Organisation in 2019. I have seen it used many times as a shortcut, or synonym, for workplace mental health but usually only at the corporate, executive level. Workers have breakdowns, but executives seem to suffer burnout.

Recently a book was published in the United States called “The Burnout Epidemic, or The Risk of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It”, by journalist Jennifer Moss. What is most outstanding about this book is that the recommended fix is organisational. Usually, burnout books from the States focus on the individual worker or executive. This fresh US perspective makes the book essential reading for if the US recognises how to fix burnout and chronic stress, any country can.

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Over-emphasising the COVID pandemic

Everyone has struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have died. We have to continue to make many allowances for businesses and people due to the disruption, but some are using the pandemic as an excuse for not doing something. Occupational health and safety (OHS) inactivity is being blamed on COVID-19 in some instances, masking or skewing people’s approach to workplace health and safety more generally.

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HR inching its way to an OHS epiphany

A new Human Resources (HR) article shows some promise in addressing the institutional factors that lead to poor mental health in workers.

The website for Human Resources Director asks, “Should HR be concerned about employee economic insecurity?” I would ask, “how can it not be?” given that Australian research over the last twenty years and international research since early last century has identified that job insecurity is one of several major factors in poor mental health for workers and other occupational health and safety (OHS) outcomes. HR should also be anticipating a renewed duty of care from the upcoming national OHS regulations on psychologically healthy workplaces.

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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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