Fels sets the scene for inquiries into workplace mental health

Earlier this week former chair of the Australian Government’s National Mental Health Commission, Allan Fels (pictured right) addressed a lunch hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.  The topicality of his presentation stemmed from two major inquiries into mental health – one by the Federal Government and undertaken by the Productivity Commission (PC), the other is a Royal Commission from the Victorian Government.  The breadth of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the PC inquiry has generated a very broad level of interest across the social spectrum.  The Royal Commission ToR are yet to be released.

Fels acknowledged the role that workplaces have in addressing mental health

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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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What will the Liberal/National coalition do for Victoria on OHS?

The Victorian Liberal/National Coalition’s election platform is available on-line, or at least an outline is.  On 21 November 2018 a couple of days out from the State Election, Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, released the Coalition’s 6-page plan for their first 100 days in office, should they win on Saturday.

The State Platform of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party of Australia makes no mention of occupational health and safety (OHS) but there are many beliefs that would be dramatically affected if OHS is not managed appropriately. 

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What will the ALP do for Victoria on OHS?

archive photo of Premier Daniel Andrews

The Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party has had its 2018 policy platform available online for sometime.  Given that the State election  is on November 24, 2018 it is timely to look at the ALP’s new, or restated, commitments.

In its section on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) the ALP claims that its support of WorkSafe Victoria’s

“…behavioural change campaigns has seen a reduction over time in workplace injury and death, however there remain some businesses which continue to show little regard for the safety of their workforce.” (page 17)

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An OHS-based investigation of suicides should identify new control options

Melbourne, Australia – December 28, 2016: Melbourne Metro Train at Ringwood Station

Why is rail-related suicide an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue?

I looked into the issue of rail-related suicide when writing an OHS chapter for the Metro Trains Melbourne’s (MTM) bid for a franchise renewal for running trains on the metropolitan network. Each rail-related suicide, MTM describes these as trespasser suicides, creates major work-related psychological trauma for the train drivers as well as grief for the families of the deceased.  These incidents have secondary impacts on the rail workers who need to clean the trains which are taken out of service after each incident and driven to the nearest biowash, as well as those MTM staff, and emergency service workers, who were required to attend the scene.

There is also massive harm, pain and cost to those whose suicide attempts fail to result in death, and those who will care for those who are now disabled.

Addressing the hazard of rail-related suicides needs a new and broader discussion; one which must involve a broad, enlightened occupational health and safety approach.

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