The Interconnectedness Challenge

The solutions to most occupational health and safety (OHS) issues are multidisciplinary meaning that solutions are rarely simple and rarely come from a single source of information or knowledge. Recently I have been challenging my colleagues to spread their voices and experience beyond their own disciplines to illustrate how a worker’s health and safety is affected by a broad range of hazards and environments. I extend that challenge to all organisations including employer and industry groups like the Business Council of Australia (BCA) which has recently released a report on “The state of enterprise bargaining in Australia”.

Many organisations undertake research into different elements of work but rarely take an overall perspective, or one that analyses the interconnection of societal and occupational conditions and pressures. The latest BCA report is one example

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Fence or Ambulance?

The other week Lucinda Brogden, one of Australia’s Mental Health Commissioners participated in a three day suicide prevention conference, concluding the week as a keynote speaker at an occupational health and safety (OHS) seminar. Her commitment to keep focusing on the prevention of harm made her a comfortable fit for the largely OHS audience. Hopefully her influence is big on the Australian mental health policy makers.

Brogden reminded the audience of an 1895 poem by Joseph Malins which discusses the prevention of harm through the analogy of putting a fence at the cliff edge to stop people falling rather than having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to collect the dead and injured. It is unlikely that Malins was thinking of workplace safety with this poem but, as a temperance activist, it is certain he was thinking about health. Regardless, the imagery is a useful and simple illustration of the advantages in the prevention of harm, and not just in relation to mental health.

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Suicide Differently

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Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (with a signing interpreter) speaking at the National Suicide Prevention Conference

Over 600 delegates at the National Suicide Prevention conference in Melbourne in July 2019 heard one speaker almost invoke the “Safety Differently” concept to suicide prevention (Hands off, its ours, Ed.). This showed that suicide prevention approaches are maturing, but that advocates continue to operate in a public health/mental health silo.

Several speakers acknowledged that the suicide prevention strategies in Australia over the past few decades have failed to reduce the suicide rate. This has been known for some time as evident from this statement by Emeritus Professor Ian Webster in a 2017 publication “Postvention Australia Guidelines”:

“Prevention has always been part of the national suicide prevention strategy but its contribution is even more important now as some of the past initiatives have not been as effective in reducing suicide rates as we had hoped.”

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Suicide prevention at Victoria’s Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System began the first of a couple of days focusing on suicide prevention by reminding the audience that there are three kinds of interventions:

  • Universal – population level wellness
  • Selective – those who have suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  • Indicated – those who are engaging in suicidal behaviour

Occupational health and safety (OHS) concerns about harm prevention overlap with each of these to some extent, but the approach with the most opportunity for the prevention of harm is likely to be in Universal intervention. SafetyAtWorkBlog looked for discussion of work-related harm and interventions in yesterday’s Public Hearings.

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Be part of the Mental Health conversation

Public submissions for Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health close on July 5 2019. If you believe that work-related mental health is important, tell the Royal Commission through its, very easy, online submission process. Below is the text of the submission I made earlier this week.

The website asks you questions, many more than I answered, so you just have to think a little bit, and comment. If you don’t have time for a detailed submission, there is a Brief Comments option.

What is already working well and what can be done better to prevent mental illness and to support people to get early treatment and support?

Employers have had legislative obligations to provide safe and healthy work environments for many decades, but the inclusion of psychological health has been largely overlooked in preference to those hazards that have a direct relationship to traumatic injury and death.  It is only since 2000, and the various campaigns since to prevent and reduce stress and bullying, that psychological risks have been on the workplace agenda.

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