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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“no choice” = BS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are increasingly applying to non-occupational situations. This “responsibility creep” may be part of the reason that public members are complaining about unfair restrictions on what they can do, on their choices, on the way they have done things for years. Many claim that they have no choice to do what they do, that the choice has been taken away from them, but there is always a choice, even if the consequences are uncomfortable.

The misrepresentation of OHS rules and obligations in the United Kingdom media led to a myth-busting program run by that country’s Health and Safety Executive. In many ways, the UK media was being mischievous by exploiting and exacerbating misunderstandings of OHS duties, but it had a significant cultural impact that lives on today. Traditionally OHS duties were easier to understand when they were contained in a workplace (or were seen to only apply to workplaces); when they jumped the fence, the social rules changed.

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OHS subtext in Industrial Manslaughter discussions

Senator Deborah O’Neill continued her attack on Australia’s Liberal/National party government in Senate Estimates hearing last week.

With the Work Health and Safety (WHS) ministers split on the introduction of an Industrial Manslaughter (IM) offence in the Model WHS laws, Senator Michaelia Cash, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and chair of that WHS meeting, could have voted in favour of these IM changes but declined. O’Neill saw this as a political weakness and challenged Senator Cash to justify her decision. The justifications, with a hint of arse-covering, were morally weak but legally sufficient. At one point, Senator Cash said:

“… a fundamental principle of work health and safety regulation in Australia, as you would be aware, is that liability should focus on risk, not outcome, because the evidence shows that when you focus on risk, as opposed to outcome—and the outcome that you are referring to here is a terrible outcome: a death in a workplace—it’s been proven to actually improve health and safety in workplaces.”

Hansard, June 2, 2021, page 8
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COVID19 and OHS gets political

Workplace health and safety risks related to COVID19 emerge in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Trade Union Suggestions

On May 5 2020, the Australian Council of Trade Unions released a statement on occupational health and safety (OHS) calling for certain Industrial Relations and OHS changes, including:

  • Paid pandemic leave
  • New regulations on safety and health standards, and
  • Compulsory notifications to Health Departments and OHS Regulators.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been led to believe that the paid pandemic leave is intended to apply from the time a worker is tested for COVID19 through their isolation while waiting for the test results and the operation of sick leave should the test results be positive.

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What is needed to get us out of this crisis

As parts of the world begin to emerge from the disruption and lockdowns of COVID19 some academics and experts are advising that the future must be built on the past but should not seek to replicate it. Over a dozen prominent, global academics (listed below) have written a discussion paper to be published in the Economic & Labour Relations Review (ELRR) in June 2020 entitled “The COVID-19 pandemic: lessons on building more equal and sustainable societies” which includes discussion on workplace relations and factors affecting mental health at work. These big picture discussions are essential in the development of strategies and policies for the post-COVD19 world and occupational health and safety (OHS) has a legitimate, and some would say unique, voice.


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Great loss, but no vision and limited interest

This year’s International Workers Memorial Day/World Day for Safety and Health at Work is over. Many of the memorial events were conducted online and many gave healthcare workers prominence, especially in the United Kingdom. SafetyAtWorkBlog watched the online service conducted by the Victorian Trades Hall.

Many worker memorials are little more than a reiteration of the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. If the ceremonies are conducted by trade unions, as most are, they are usually advocating for the role of Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). This year’s Victorian ceremony was typical. However, there were some curiosities and such ceremonies can, and should, be more than just a commemoration.

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Deaths of Health Care workers from COVID19

A doctor in a protective suit taking a nasal swab from a person to test for possible coronavirus infection

The theme for most commemorations on April 28 is the COVID19 pandemic. This is understandable as the pandemic has disrupted lives and economies globally and many people have died. Perhaps the most tragic of these deaths are those of medical and healthcare staff who have contracted the infection through their work. The largest public outrage over this situation has been in the United Kingdom, but a similar situation could easily have occurred in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere if those governments had not acted as quickly as they did or were less better prepared.

Some research has already commenced on healthcare worker infection deaths showing important initial clues on how governments, hospitals and medical employers can do better.

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