Several weeks ago, researchers from Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) commenced a survey about safety managers and COVID19. The research was called “Resilience in a COVID19 World” and aimed at
“Exploring health and safety measures taken by and for ‘essential services’ workers throughout Australia’s COVID-19 crisis, and how their contributions affect personal and organisational resilience.”
Some initial results are in a recent outline published by Dr Tristan Casey & Dr Xiaowen Hu through The Culture Effect consultancy. There were four key challenges but also significant positives.
Michael Tooma is probably the most prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer in Australia. His latest book is, a little pretentiously, called “Michael Tooma on Mental Health“, but it fits with the series of OHS-related publications he has written for Wolters Kluwer. Unusually for a lawyer, there are only two chapters that specifically discuss legislative obligations, and, in many ways, these are the least interesting.
Positive Mental Health
In the Introduction, Tooma goes out of his way to stress the positive benefits of work. He is critical of the current OHS approach to workplace stress writing that we seek a “Goldilocks” application of perfection when this is really subjectively determined by each worker. Tooma challenges this in a major way through the 2012 study by Keller and others:
On May 15 2020, the Australian Government released a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan. Mental Health has been on Prime Minister Morrison’s agenda since his election a year ago and the mental health sector is not going to be starved of government funds during his tenure.
Mental ill-health has been talked about throughout the current COVID19 Pandemic and has been forecast to increase due to the economic disruption and the requirements for social isolation. To some extent, the low numbers of COVID19 deaths in Australia has allowed it a “luxury” of addressing mental health, but some of the justifications seem not as strong as claimed and the National Mental Health Plan omits any consideration of occupational health and safety (OHS) other than for those in the health industry; the so-called “frontline workers”.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is integral to how work and job should be designed in the post-COVID19 world, but you wouldn’t know it from the current discussions in the media. On May 13, 2020, the day after a major economic statement from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, told ABC Radio that:
“…. there’s some pretty sobering numbers that the Treasurer gave yesterday and fundamentally I think we’ve all got to come back to basics here. This is about people’s lives and so what we have to do, as the kind of leadership dynamic, is to focus on getting people back to work and getting them into secure and meaningful work.emphasis added
It is not unreasonable to add safety to that “secure and meaningful work”.
OHS fits into this phrase in many ways, but one of particular note is job security and its links to mental health, especially as mental health has been a policy priority repeatedly identified by Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and others.
On May 11 2020, the Australian Financial Review’s back page ran an article (paywalled)about how “corporates” are becoming aware of mental health risks due to the COVID19 disruption. It is a good article but also one that reveals the dominant misunderstanding about mental health at work and how to prevent it.