Political Science (finally) comes to OHS

Improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) standards has always been the intention of OHS laws. Parallel to this is the intention of the OHS, and allied, professions to continuously improve health and safety through the prevention of harm. However, political leadership on OHS has been scarce over the last few years, especially in the national governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. So, it is necessary to look beyond the party politics to other sources of change.

Professor Maureen Dollard speaking at the 2019 ANZSOM Scientific Meeting in Adelaide

At the recent scientific meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide, prominent academic, Professor Maureen Dollard, introduced a much- needed element of political science into her presentation which was titled “Work Organisation and Psychosocial Factors”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to ask Dollard, and fellow presenter Professor Sally Ferguson, about this political context.

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New Zealand leads on wellbeing

A couple of months ago, SafetyAtWorkBlog mentioned New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget. Last week a representative of the NZ Treasury, Ruth Shinoda, spoke about it from direct experience in Melbourne at the 7th Global Healthy Workplace Summit. The Wellbeing Budget and a complimentary Living Standard Framework provide important contrasts to how Australia is valuing the healthy and safety of its citizens and workers.

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Look closely at the camel rather than the straw

There are strong parallels between the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and others addressing workplace issues, such as the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental and the Productivity Commission’s mental health inquiry, but there is also a connection to the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services which has focused the minds of some of Australia’s corporation s and leaders into examining their own workplace cultures and, for some, to reassess the role and application of capitalism.

This is going to become even more of a critical activity as the National Sexual Harassment Inquiry completes its report prior to its release in the first month or two of 2020.

Cultural analysis, and change, is often best undertaken first in a microcosm or specific social context. The experiences of sexual harassment of rural women in Australia is one such context, a context examined in detail by Dr Skye Saunders in her book “Whispers from the Bush“.

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Looks good but could be better

The Australian Financial Review on October 1 2019 contained an exclusive report on consulting firm (paywalled) Deloitte’s approach to mental health at work matters coinciding with National Safe Work Month. The original document is unlikely to be publicly released but Edmund Tadros‘ report provides some quotes and insights. The initiative seems very positive until you consider it in light of organisational changes recommended to control and prevent this psychological hazards from Safe Work Australia (SWA) guidance.

Tadros quotes Deloitte’s Australian CEO Richard Deutsch:

“Mr Deutsch said in the message that individual differences could mean “what I find stressful you may find motivating, and vice versa. I don’t want anyone to feel their health and wellbeing is compromised because of work”.

This broad statement fits with the employer’s duties under occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, so it’s a good start. But doubts about the strategy start to emerged when Deutsch mentions workload, a contentious issue for Deloitte’s junior staff:

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