Earlier this week former chair of the Australian Government’s National Mental Health Commission, Allan Fels (pictured right) addressed a lunch hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. The topicality of his presentation stemmed from two major inquiries into mental health – one by the Federal Government and undertaken by the Productivity Commission (PC), the other is a Royal Commission from the Victorian Government. The breadth of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the PC inquiry has generated a very broad level of interest across the social spectrum. The Royal Commission ToR are yet to be released.
Fels acknowledged the role that workplaces have in addressing mental health
The Australian Government has released the terms of reference into its Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health. The inquiry has broad aims that clearly include occupational health and safety (OHS) and may set some evidence challenges for some of those in the workplace wellbeing sector:
“It will look at how governments across Australia, employers, professional and community groups in healthcare, education, employment, social services, housing and justice can contribute to improving mental health for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.” (emphasis added)
The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP has written that
“the Commission should consider the role of mental health in supporting economic participation, enhancing productivity and economic growth.”
The policy platform of the Victorian Greens party has been publicly available for some time but there is only one paragraph in the 22 page document that directly addresses occupational health and safety (OHS):
“We voted for regulating labour hire, we will support criminalising wage theft, and we have called for industrial manslaughter laws.” (page 26)
But if a generous definition of workplace health and safety is applied there are several other policies of interest.
On Sunday November 4 2018, The Herald-Sun newspaper’s regular Body & Soul supplement devoted several pages to an exclusive article about workplace wellbeing ($). It is clearly an advertorial as the supplement has several full page advertisement from Medibank Private and the article includes a text box labelling it as the
“b+s 2018 Worklife Survey in partnership with Medibank”.
The article and survey is less than helpful from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective as there is no mention of organisational control measures or even the recent campaign in National Safe Work Month by WorkSafe Victoria on wellness!
Most non-transport industries do not look for the lack of sleep or fatigue as a factor in their investigations. Unless a formal investigation is undertaken, fatigue is rarely mentioned and, if it is, it is categorised as a “contributory factor”, which often means it is given such a low priority that nothing will be done about it. This is partly a legacy of silo thinking that sleep is a non-work personal activity, which it is, but is still one that can affect work and all the relationships and decisions made at work. But it is also partly due to the enormous disruption that could result if the lack of sleep and fatigue were taken seriously and effective control measures were introduced.
The most effective control for fatigue may be human-friendly shifts and “reasonable” working hours but that might not fit the shift rosters which are required to satisfy clients. We know that night shift has higher health and physical risks than day shift so logically, get rid of night shift ….