Resilience training remains contentious

The issue of resilience training and its role in managing workplace mental health continues to confuse at a recent mental health conference.

Yesterday, several experts were critical of resilience training or, more accurately, the over-reliance on worker-focussed interventions when evidence shows that more sustainable benefits are obtainable by addressing the structural factors leading to poor mental health at work. One of the experts specifically said that resilience training may be relevant to emergency services workers where their workplaces are so dynamic that it is almost impossible to anticipate mental health hazards.

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Government responds to the mental health risks of emergency service workers

In 2018/19 one of Australia’s Senate Committees looked at the mental health of emergency responders. The final report was handed down in February 2019 and the government’s response has been released today, twelve months later (?!). Lucky the government delayed as it allowed the Response to mention the 2019/20 bushfires even though this was outside the timeline of the Committee’s inquiry.

Emergency Responders, as do frontline soldiers, face unique psychological risks from their duties, so there are some recommendations that are difficult for those outside the sector to relate to but looking at the Response gives an insight into the thinking about occupational health and safety (OHS), and especially workplace mental health risks, of the Australian government. That thinking may be summarised by the Government supporting only one of the fourteen recommendations, noting five of them and supporting “in principle” the rest.

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OHS and wage theft

Australia is several years into a scandal of underpayment of workers referred to, by some, as wage theft. Occupational health and safety (OHS) would not normally figure in a wages and industrial relations (IR) scandal but the scandal has a legitimate OHS context.

The previous, and ongoing, scandals are not going to be summarised in this article as there are plenty of articles elsewhere in lots of different media but there is a common thread in many of the scandals. Workers are not being paid for some of the time they spend at work, work that is commonly described as unpaid overtime. This unpaid overtime extends the working day, for a variety of reasons, and OHS may not accommodate these additional hours (as they are “not official”) or OHS may be “stretched”, or risks downplayed.

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We’ve had enough awareness, now act

Mental health and burnout are workplace hazards with which many companies and workers are struggling. No matter what international or national organisations say about the hazard, it remains difficult to implement positive change at the workplace level. It is not helped by mainstream media articles that claim to prevent burnout and then provide very little information about how to prevent it.

A recent article in The Times, and reproduced today in The Australian, written by John Naish, is an example. The original article was headlined “How to prevent burnout at work”. This was retitled “Workplace burnout can lead to numerous serious health issues — and even premature death” in The Australian” (both are paywalled).

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Worker exploitation may be cultural but is still harmful

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has released a media statement based on new research into mental illness and suicidal ideation of junior doctors. Given that the relationship between excessive working hours and mental health is increasingly becoming an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue, SafetyAtWorkBlog sought some clarification to some of the quotes in the statement attributed to AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone.

The January 23 2020 media release quoted Bartone saying:

“A healthy medical profession is vital to patient safety and quality of care, and the sustainability of the medical workforce,… Significant evidence already exists to show that doctors are at greater risk of psychological distress and stress-related problems. This new research provides clear additional insight into how the workplace can affect the health and wellbeing of the medical profession. Long working hours, unpredictable rosters, overtime, being on-call, and night shifts are significant systemic barriers to the maintenance of physical and mental health and wellbeing. There is an established link between working more hours and having higher rates of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress.”

These are the questions put to the AMA:

  • The media release lists several “systemic barriers” that are generating poor psychological health. It seems that most of these barriers would be removed or weakened if hospitals had more staff. Is the psychological harm a result of insufficient staffing levels? And is this a result of underinvestment in hospitals?
  • Is the fatigue, psychological harm, etc. a result of trying to make do with the available resources? If so, what new income or labour sources are being sought?
  • Why do you think the trend towards safe working hours stalled?
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