Real men and work-related suicide

Recently Huffington Post Australia posted a video about male suicides called “Men are killing themselves to be real men”.  Many of the speakers talked about their experiences at work or with work.  The video is highly recommended.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the opportunity to talk with the Associate Video Editor, Emily Verdouw. Below is an edited transcript.

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Trade unions offer alternative, more accurate(?) workplace death statistics

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) indirectly acknowledged the ILO theme for World Day for Safety and Health at Work in its media release for International Workers Memorial Day 2017.  The ILO was calling for more, and better, data on workplace injuries and illnesses.  VTHC questioned the official workplace fatality numbers issued by the government.  It stated:

“A VTHC analysis shows that in 2016-17 over 200 Victorians died as a direct result of Workplace injury or illness, although the government’s official tally for the year is just 26.”

This disparity needs to be discussed across jurisdictions because occupational health and safety (OHS) data has always been incomplete, a fact acknowledged by many government inquiries in Australia for many years.  

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What do we want from a workers’ memorial?

When anyone dies, it is important to remember them and their relatives as well as those we did not know personally but who also grieve.  Public recognition of deceased workers is a recent phenomenon, even though we have commemorated and noted industrial disasters for over a century.  Memorials have always provided a symbolic focus for our attention and grief with the hope that these memorials motivate people to reduce the chances of a workplace death occurring to others.

But worker memorials need to be carefully considered and designed to be inclusive as Death visits all workplaces regardless of the religion of the workers, their ethnicity, the location of the fatality or the workplace conditions.  On the eve of International Workers’ Memorial Day for 2017, it may be time to rethink the memorial to deceased workers in Melbourne, Victoria.

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When Work Kills – new research on workplace suicides

There are many advocates of the importance of a mental health and wellbeing in workplaces.  But few of them address the worst-case scenario for workplace mental health of work-related suicides.  In some cases, the mental health advocates are overly cautious about even speaking the reality, which does not help reduce mental health stigma.

In 2016 Professor Stewart Clegg, of UTS Business School said that

“That work can kill the will to live is a fundamental ethical problem that we must attend to…”

New research from the UK provides a useful summary of the work-related and workplace suicides in Europe with important lessons of where precarious employment and the “gig economy” could lead.

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Firefighting mental health report leaked

cover-of-mfb-mental-health-reportThe Herald-Sun newspaper has released the final report into the mental health and suicide rate of Victorian metropolitan firefighters.

The report, authored by Dr Peter Cotton, found that the issues uncovered in the review of firefighters in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) are not dissimilar from the findings of other inquiries into emergency service organisations like the police or the ambulance service.  

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Work-related suicides in another militarily-structured organisation

Australia’s emergency services have had several reviews into accusations of workplace bullying, harassment, mental health or suicides. Melbourne’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) is the latest to undergo this type of review but the United Firefighters Union (UFU) is not happy about the release of the final report, which was due out today.  If the final report is consistent, a dysfunctional safety culture will be found.

According to a report in the ABC news website, the review was

“…headed by clinical psychologist Dr Peter Cotton, who wrote a similar report for Victoria Police.” [link added]

SafetyAtWorkBlog readers may recall that an earlier article on psychologically healthy workplaces included this mention of Dr Cotton

“[Dr Chris] Stevens is not blind to the shortcomings of some of the trends in the area of psychologically healthy workplaces. He agreed that the modern workplaces and workers are subject to over-diagnosis of mental health issues and paraphrased some of the work of Dr Peter Cotton who estimated around 30% of workers compensation claims for psychological injury relate to low morale and not psychiatric diagnosis.”

Continue reading “Work-related suicides in another militarily-structured organisation”

Japanese depression contrasts the Western understanding of workplace mental health

frustrated young asian businessman

Australian workplace mental health advocates often seem to shy away from discussions of suicide, perhaps because suicides are not a regular occurrence at work or because work-related suicide remains stigmatised.  To better understand this overlap between suicide and mental health, and the working environment, it may be useful to look at the Japanese experience where work-related suicides, specifically karoshi, seems to have occurred before the appearance or recognition of mental ill-health and depression.

Recently the BBC released a series of broadcasts and podcasts looking at mental health issues.  The first episode discussed “Depression in Japan”.  The whole series Borders of Sanity will be of interest to mental health students and professionals but the Japanese episode reinforces that the recognition and treatment of depression is not the same around the world.  The appearance of depression in Japan is a very recent occurrence and shows the links between mental health and culture, particularly as it relates to the role of work, our place in work and our relationships with our bosses.

Japan has a unique approach to work and the relationships within work.  Some of the practices have been exported to other countries as we have seen in companies like Toyota but the perception of workload, diligence, commitment and loyalty has some echoes in Western workplaces.

Karoshi has been reported on in the West many times before, often as a peculiar quirk of the Orient but the recent BBC podcast is less about suicide and more about depression and mental health.  The West has a long tradition of psychoanalysis where stress, anxiety and depression have been defined, refined and integrated into our cultures.  This is still in its early stages in Japan and the full podcast is a fascinating counterpoint to the Western perception of workplace mental health.

Kevin Jones

Workplace suicide reflection

A letter to the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (subscription only) has provided a slightly different perspective on the Australia suicide statistics released earlier this year, and some of the reporting on the statistics. This is an important perspective when considering suicide interventions.

Allison Milner and Andrew Page note that the Australian Bureau of Statistics suicide data only covered the last 10 years which misses out on a comparison from last century which would show the change from 2013 to 2014 to be “less noteworthy”.

On the issue workplace suicides, Milner and Page advocate the integration of prevention strategies into the workplace but also write that

“Workplace suicide prevention activities show promise, but more rigorous evaluation is needed”.

The authors emphasise that

“Perhaps the more important message from the most recent statistics is that suicide among older age males (⩾60 years) and middle-aged males (45–59 years) continue to increase….”

This is an important consideration should your workforce match these demographics.

Milner and Page urge readers to focus on evidence-based approaches to suicide prevention. Such evidence will assist OHS professionals and business owners in considering a worst-case mental health scenario and adjusting these measures to match the mental health profiles of their workplaces and that of their clients.

The research also serves as a caution against immediate commentary on statistics by showing a measured assessment of data. Much of the statistical and academic research reports are murky and complex because the audience is, primarily, academic peers but time and reflection allows for alternate perspectives and, sometimes, plain English translations.

Kevin Jones

Suicide Prevention Forum and Mental Health First Aid for workers

In March 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its latest figures into the causes of death. A lot of media attention was given to the figures showing an increase in the suicide rate.  It found that

“Among those aged 15 to 44, the leading causes of death were Intentional self-harm (suicide)…”

Dr Claire Kelly, Manager, Youth Programs, Mental Health First Aid Australia, talking at the Suicide Prevention Forum 2016
Dr Claire Kelly, Manager, Youth Programs, Mental Health First Aid Australia, talking at the Suicide Prevention Forum 2016

On the day those figures were released, the

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