Take a good hard look at your business and do something about it

The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) published an opinion piece on January 20, 2020 concerning working hours in the medical profession and the risk of mental health and suicide from working excessive hours. It uses the Japanese problem of “karoshi” to illustrate the severity of the workplace risks but it misses a couple of points.

It references the amendments to Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation that introduced an offence of Industrial Manslaughter but implies that this amendment changes the duty of care expected of employers and changes a worker’s right to a safe and healthy workplace.

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Harm prevention gets short shrift from Aigroup report

The Australian Industry Group has released research into workplace mental health conducted by Griffith University. The AiGroup claims it is a

“… a landmark study into mental health initiatives taken in local workplaces”.

It is far from it. Workplace mental health will only become more important in 2020 with reports due from the Productivity Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission. Sadly the AiGroup report gives inadequate attention to the prevention of work-related psychological harm even though this has been identified by some Australian mental health experts as the most cost-effective and sustainable business strategy.

The most obvious problem with the report is with this statement:

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Good article ……. And?

There is an article doing the rounds of some of the American newspapers called “Shaping culture to be psychologically healthy” by Bill Howatt. It is a solid article but illustrates some of the limited thinking common to advocates of psychological health in workplaces.

Howatt writes about establishing and managing a suitable culture through leadership, education, awareness and other activities. But organisational cultures operate within a larger pool of cultural contexts and, most importantly, business structures.

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Mental health prevention is still glossed over

The latest edition of CEO Magazine contains a brief report of a workplace mental health breakfast seminar. It is written by John Karagounis, the CEO of the CEO Circle, the host of the seminar. Prominent speakers included Julia Gillard, Paul Howes and Georgie Harman, all associated with beyondblue. The prevention of mental ill-health at work is only inferred in this article, which reflects the dominant, and limited, perspective of most of the mental health sector. A deeper and broader analysis of workplace mental health is deserved.

However, the article included two statements of note. Clarification is being sought on this Karagounis statement:

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Recognition for hard work and inspiration

There seems to be a spate of intelligent and knowledgeable people talking about the structural changes required by businesses to reduce and prevent psychological harm. Two Australian voices are Lucinda Brogden and Dr Rebecca Michalak. New Zealand has Dr Hillary Bennett who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards. Bennett’s interview with SafeGuard magazine should be obligatory reading.

Bennett is asked about the Human Resource (HR) profession and nails a critical difference in the HR approach to the occupational health and safety (OHS) one:

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