Interesting but not representative

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released the results of its latest occupational health and safety (OHS) survey. In past surveys respondents have been trade union members. This survey was opened to non-union members, but to what extent is unclear but this has not stopped the ACTU speaking of the respondents as workers rather than workers who are all union members.

This differentiation is important. In the 1990s when union membership was much larger, the argument that the survey results were representative of Australia’s workforce was stronger although still debatable. Representation is harder to claim now with union membership being well below 20% overall and below 10% in the private sector.

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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 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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Identifying work-related mental health

Recently the Medical Journal of Australia published new guidelines for general practitioners (GPs) on how to identify work-related mental health conditions (MHC). This is vital information as GPs are often the first opportunity where mental health conditions can be identified or confirmed. It also assists occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals by acknowledging the role of work in the positive and negative mental health of workers.

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Burnout, self-advocacy and more

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SafetyAtWorkBlog’s initial approach to Justine Alter, Psychologist and co-director of Transitioning Well. on the prevention of Burnout illicited the following response. It deserved further exploration so Alter was sent a further set of questions leading to useful answers.

“Prevention strategies are considered to be the most effective approach for addressing workplace burnout, and there are a number of things that workers can do to minimise the risk:   

– Recognise the importance of a work-life balance ensuring that you get some recovery time
– Prioritise your time. Identify what is important, what can wait, and what can be delegated to others
– Self-advocacy. This can be difficult, however thinking about the importance of your mental and emotional health may help you advocate better for yourself
– Lead by example: utilise any flexible leave policies and opportunities that your company may provide
– Remain aware of resources that are available through your workplace – EAP, counselling, etc.  Consider making these resources available if they aren’t already.”

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