If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

The trade union movement has often been instrumental in affecting and sometimes creating government policy on occupational health and safety (OHS).  The latest generation of hazards – psychosocial – can be traced back to a survey late last century of workplace stress conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).  This week the ACTU released its survey into sexual harassment at work.

The current survey should not be seen as representative of any social group other than trade union members even though the survey was completed by 10,000 of them.  Also, this survey is far less likely to be as newsworthy as last century’s surveys as the agenda on workplace sexual harassment has already been established by reports from groups like Universities Australia and, especially, the current work by the Sexual Discrimination Commissioner and the Australian Human Rights Commission.  It is also likely to be covered, probably as a secondary issue, in the various mental health inquiries scheduled for 2019.

The ACTU survey provides additional information to our understanding of sexual harassment at work but certainly not the whole picture.

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Productivity Commission sets stage for inquiry into mental health

The Australian Government has released the terms of reference into its Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health.  The inquiry has broad aims that clearly include occupational health and safety (OHS) and may set some evidence challenges for some of those in the workplace wellbeing sector:

“It will look at how governments across Australia, employers, professional and community groups in healthcare, education, employment, social services, housing and justice can contribute to improving mental health for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.” (emphasis added)

The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP has written that

“the Commission should consider the role of mental health in supporting economic participation, enhancing productivity and economic growth.”

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Advertorial over-simplifies workplace health and safety

On Sunday November 4 2018, The Herald-Sun newspaper’s regular Body & Soul supplement devoted several pages to an exclusive article about workplace wellbeing ($). It is clearly an advertorial as the supplement has several full page advertisement from Medibank Private and the article includes a text box labelling it as the

“b+s 2018 Worklife Survey in partnership with Medibank”.

The article and survey is less than helpful from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective as there is no mention of organisational control measures or even the recent campaign in National Safe Work Month by WorkSafe Victoria on wellness!

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The systemic causes of poor mental health may get long-awaited attention

Source: istockphoto

Australia’s national government has announced an inquiry into mental health to be conducted by the Productivity Commission.  The Victorian Government has promised a Royal Commission into Mental Health as part of its election pledge. New South Wales has a five-year Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy. All of these initiatives are being applauded by the mental health advocates but two of them have yet to specify their terms of reference or their timelines for delivery, making it difficult to determine what role workplaces, workers and employers will have.

There is also a political risk that community expectations or the evidence base changes during the delivery period.  Workplace mental health seems particularly susceptible to this risk at the moment.

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Start the bullying epidemic without me

Australia has been told for a long time that workplace bullying was an epidemic.  Recent data seems to indicate that workplace bullying is a persistent problem which, to some extent, has blended into the miasma that is work-related mental health.  The Fair Work Commission released its 2017/18 Annual Report on October 18 (not yet online) adding further doubt to the epidemic claims.

Below is a comparison graph (page 19) of FWC activity which shows 721 applications concerning workplace bullying. It is ninth in the list of FWC activities.

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