The certainty of diagnosis

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is not famous for its certainty. The days of prescriptive compliance to OHS laws are, probably, never to return. But the flexibility offered by modern OHS laws and the pervasiveness of “reasonably practicable” has complicated the management of workplace health safety by increasing that uncertainty.

The attention being given to workplace mental health, over the last 20 years and since work-related stress was identified as a major problem, has highlighted this flexibility/uncertainty. However, some certainty on workplace mental health is accessible if one is prepared to challenge the dominant workplace wellness paradigms.

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Work-related mental health remains contentious

This article is about SafeWorkNSW’s recently released Draft Code of Practice for Managing the Risks to Psychological Health, but it is not going to focus on the Code.  Instead the focus will be on the supplementary Explanatory Paper because this presents the rationale for the Code’s contents and, in many ways, is a more useful tool for occupational health and safety (OHS) discussions. However, just as the Code has structural and legislative limitations as part of its Purpose, the Explanatory Paper is a support document for submissions on the Draft Code and therefore has its own limitations.

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Wellness programs – Do They Work?

Many companies operate wellness programs at work. Some of these claim to reduce the likelihood of work-related injury or ill health. Others are aimed at reducing chronic health risks such as obesity, heart disease and more. A recent book from the United States encourages us to be sceptical of such programs and ask about employers’ purposes in introducing such programs. The book is called “Calling Bullshit – The Art of Scepticism in a Data-Driven World” and offers important insights beyond workplace wellness.

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If staff are “going to hit the wall”, redesign the wall

On May 11 2020, the Australian Financial Review’s back page ran an article (paywalled)about how “corporates” are becoming aware of mental health risks due to the COVID19 disruption. It is a good article but also one that reveals the dominant misunderstanding about mental health at work and how to prevent it.

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Workers and COVID19 survey

Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released some research into workers and COVID19. It is not peer-reviewed and there will certainly be much more research into the disruption and personal and occupational responses to the coronavirus disruption over the next few months. The survey results do not specifically analyse occupational health and safety (OHS) issues but there are clues to future considerations.

The media release, understandably, discusses the changed employment status or arrangements. The OHS hazards associated with precarious work are well-established and the survey illustrates the extent of precarity in Australian workplace, so mental health issues are going to come to the fore as government-imposed isolation continues and/or businesses reopen.

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Mental Health conference assessment

As you could guess from some recent blog posts, the Criterion Conference called “Improving Integrated Approaches to Workplace Mental Health” conducted with the support of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety, was well worth attending as many of the speakers were excellent. What was missing was a strong voice of advocacy on behalf of the Human Resources (HR) profession to counter or balance the strong occupational health and safety (OHS) focus.

Below is a summary of some of the important points made by the conference speakers (or at least those who did not impose restrictions).

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Resilience training remains contentious

The issue of resilience training and its role in managing workplace mental health continues to confuse at a recent mental health conference.

Yesterday, several experts were critical of resilience training or, more accurately, the over-reliance on worker-focussed interventions when evidence shows that more sustainable benefits are obtainable by addressing the structural factors leading to poor mental health at work. One of the experts specifically said that resilience training may be relevant to emergency services workers where their workplaces are so dynamic that it is almost impossible to anticipate mental health hazards.

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