Ethical Socialism and OHS

Every political leader on the progressive side, or Left, of politics, must address their relationship to Socialism. Recently The Guardian discussed this concerning the UK Labour leader Keir Starmer but the topic has relevance to Australia as several elections are scheduled for 2022. It is also important in understanding the ideological base of these prospective leaders as it is from this that progress on occupational health and safety (OHS) will emerge.

In a recent book “Sedated: How Modern Capitalism Created Our Mental Health Crisis“, UK academic Dr James Davies provides a valuable first-hand experience of the denial, or avoidance, of social obligations and the transference of responsibility to individuals in the context of Mental Health First Aid.

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Reluctance to address mental health notifications

Another example of the unwillingness of occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators feeling able to affect change in workplace mental health by looking outside the workplace is the United Kingdom’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Sadly this position contributes to unnecessarily stigmatising a legitimate workplace hazard.

On a recent episode of the Safety and Health Podcast on workplace suicides, Professor Sarah Waters said:

“Unlike other countries, unlike France, unlike the US, unlike most European systems, suicide, even where there are clear links to work is pretty much treated in the UK context as an individual mental health problem, there tends to be a denial on the part of the HSE on the part of other public agencies, that there is a link between suicide and work.”

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Suicides and historic data

Recently Safe Work Australia (SWA) released an excellent batch of occupational health and safety (OHSA) information in its annual “Key WHS Statistics – Australia 2021″. The decline in fatalities is significant, but there remains an odd omission that is worrying the longer it is not addressed – work-related suicides.

Limiting the statistical period also has implications for how OHS is understood and for the rate of change.

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2000 Interview with Paul Kells

Recently Paul Kells passed away. Paul had a major influence on workplace health and safety awareness and promotion around the world. He was the founder of the Safe Communities Foundation in Canada. I was able to interview Paul prior to his attendance at a Symposium on the “Global Perspectives on Effective Workplace Safety Strategies” in Melbourne, Australia on the 15th and 16th of March 2000.

The full interview from the SafetyAtWork magazine is reproduced below and on open access. I think this interview and the Youtube video insert below gives a good indication of Paul’s passion and pain and our loss. (Paul’s memorial service will be on October 8)

SAW: How did the Safe Communities Foundation start and where is it at?

PAUL: My son was 19 years old and he was killed in an accident in a small warehouse in a suburb of Toronto. In this little shop, it was a small business with only 4 or 5 people there. He got the job through a friend whose father ran the business. It was the second or third day on the job and he was asked to go back and decant some fluid from a large drum to some small vessels.

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Business should stop complaining about paying for mental health. It’ll boost the bottom line.

[Article reprinted, with permission, from the May 24 edition of Crikey newsletter]

Luke Slawomirski

During the 2020 lockdowns, the business lobby showed a surprising concern for Victorians’ mental health: lockdowns were bad because they’d cause a spike in mental illness and suicides far worse than the COVID-19 cases and deaths they’d prevent.

The suicide spike never happened. What did happen was much-needed additional funding for mental health — $3.8 billion over four years — announced in the 2021-22 state budget on Thursday.

But the way business reacted suggests its interest in mental health has waned.

You see, the measures aimed at better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental ill health will be funded by a levy: 0.5% for businesses with payrolls above $10 million and 1% for those above $100 million. Critics, including the federal treasurer, claim this will cruel “job creation and confidence“.

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Latest Psych Health Code released

The big occupational health and safety (OHS) news in Australia has been the New South Wales release of its Code of Practice for Managing Psychological Hazards at Work. This Code is not mandatory but is a very good indication of what the OHS regulators (and perhaps eventually the Courts) believe are reasonably practicable measures for employers and business owners to take. These measures are discussed in detail below.

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Psychological harm gets new regulations and funding access

The State of Victoria had a big week on mental health, with the Labor Government allocating billions of dollars to the improvement of the mental health of its citizens. Much of the justification for the spend (and the imposition of a mental health levy on large companies) is in response to the recent Royal Commission into Mental Health Systems. Workplace health and safety was on the agenda in that Royal Commission. Hence, it is worth looking at how, or if, this recent Budget helps employers improve the psychological health of their workers in anticipation of new regulations on this hazard promised by Victoria’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt.

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