Hope clearly did not work. What’s next?

In the Weekend Australian newspaper, workplace relations journalist Ewin Hannan reported on a presentation (paywalled) made by the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke to the Attorney-General’s Department staff. (Safe Work Australia, currently, exists in this department)  From Hannan’s report, the focus seems to have been on industrial relations but it’s useful to consider Minister Burke’s words from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective given that it is highly likely that Safe Work Australia personnel were one of the “hundreds” attending or listening in. Burke said:

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Not all suicides have a mental health condition

Most suicide prevention conferences I have attended have been dominated by mental health analyses, strategies and spruikers. The slow change in that dominance began around Professor Allison Milner’s research in 2018 and her questioning of the evidence of a mental health base but stalled with her untimely death a year later. A recent research paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine may be the spark to reignite the discussion on suicides that do not have a mental health connection.

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The new approach to mental health at work may need a new profession

Managing psychologically healthy and safe workplaces makes me extremely nervous. I don’t think that anyone in Australia is suitably qualified to meet the new occupational health and safety (OHS) regulations and expectations imposed by OHS regulators in response to community demands and needs. Perhaps we need a new category of professional.

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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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