Submission to the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces

Australian research into occupational health and safety (OHS) is a lot less than research into other areas of business and management, especially in relation to the psychological wellbeing of workers at all levels of the corporate structure.  As such, it has become common for experts, advocates and researchers from the social, non-work, public health areas to overlay general and broad research findings on to workplaces – they are, in effect, filling a vacuum.  But just because the OHS research into psychological harm is thin or immature does not mean that work does not have its own characteristics.

Over many years OHS has produced research and guidelines that include the psychological effect of sexual harassment, but it has been ineffectual or ignored for may reasons.  This submission is an attempt to illustrate the potential already in existence in Australia that could be used to prevent sexual harassment-related psychological harm.

This submission has drawn almost exclusively on Australian-based documentation and research to better satisfy the title and aim of this Inquiry.  This is not saying that actions and data from overseas are not relevant: there is some excellent information on the matter from the European Union[1], for instance. But quite often people seem to look overseas for evidence and solutions when Australia already has good research and advice, if one looks.

Summary of key points

  • Sexual harassment often results in psychological harm to workers, and employers and PCBUs already have a legislative obligation under OHS/WHS law to eliminate (prevent) risks to health and safety, including psychological risks.
  • By accepting that sexual harassment is a form of workplace violence, new prevention options may be available.
  • Australia has a range of general and specific guidance on the systematic prevention of the psychological harm generated by sexual harassment, produced by Federal and State or Territorial health and safety regulators.
  • Prevention of sexual harassment may be extremely disruptive to workplaces even though it remains the most effective control measure.
  • Any strategy to prevent sexual harassment must have a multidisciplinary and cross-agency approach.
  • Independent assessment of sexual harassment risks can be determined to internationally-recognised Standards
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Workplace sexual harassment inquiry releases submissions

The National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces has started to release some of its public submissions. The Inquiry has received a lot of submissions but this blog will continue its search for strategies to prevent sexual harassment and the related psychological harm, as indicated in the Inquiry’s terms of reference and reiterated repeatedly by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

One submission by Anita McKay is very detailed and titled “Recent Developments in Sexual Harassment Law: Towards a New Model”.

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Annual Leave is an institutionalised mental health break

Occupational health and safety (OHS) and Human Resources (HR) disciplines continue to, mostly, operate in isolation and, sometimes, in conflict.  Part of the reason is that workplace matters are often seen as either OHS or HR, even though they are both.

SafetyAtWorkBlog looks for why Australian workers have four weeks of Annual Leave.

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AS/NZS ISO45001:2018 status update

Australia, as are many other countries, is in the transition phase for the latest Standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – ISO45001. The Standard has been accepted by Australia as relevant to its jurisdiction and discussion seem quiet. However, the work of the technical committee on this Standard (SF-001) continues. The Head of the Delegation for Standards Australia responsible for the 45001 series of Standards, David Solomon, provided the following status update.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) has formed a new International Technical Committee (TC283) that has been charged with the responsibility of developing the following standards that are in the suite of international Standards that ISO45001 leads.

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The mental health “one in five” statistic examined for validity

This blog has a policy of linking to source documents wherever possible. Recently I investigated the origin of the statement, and its variations:

“In a 12 month period, 20 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition.”

Clarity on this is going to be important as Australia has several formal inquiries relating to mental health and this statement often crops up in strategy documents and policies related to occupational health and safety (OHS).

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