Resilience = the enemy of the Duty of Care

Last year Professor Michael Quinlan and Dr Elsa Underhill wrote about how precarious work arrangements had contributed to the spread and prevalence of COVI19 in Australia and its workplaces. Soon Australia’s Treasurer, Josh Frydenburg, will announce his 2021-22 Budget strategy. It is forecast to include big government spending and in many different areas of Australian industry, but the economy and Australians’ health may be better served by addressing the precarious employment structures on which more and more businesses rely and about which the Government seems disinterested.

In the latest edition of Griffith Review (no. 72), Angela Smith looked at how embedded precarious work is in Australia’s economic rebound. She also looked at how the wellbeing and wellness industries compound the health and safety risks of this type of work in this time of COVID19.

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Odd sexual harassment guidance

Safe Work Australia has released an important national occupational health and safety (OHS) guidance called “Preventing workplace sexual harassment.” The advice included is very good, but the presentation is so plain and vanilla as to be unattractive – unattractive in that there is little to encourage anyone from reading what is very important information. No images, no flowcharts, no graphics, no infographics but perhaps most importantly – no case studies.

This is not to suggest that SWA guidance needs to look like a “Dummy’s Guide”, but readability is more than grammar, understanding comes from more than just information.

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Give Duty of Care and Workers’ Compensation a good shake

At the2020 Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM) annual scientific meeting, Dr David Goddard spoke about “Regulation: when expectations go unmet”. In a wide-ranging presentation Goddard spoke of Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws touching on a couple of contentious governance issues:

“…… Robens-inspired law introduced the employers’ general duty of care with responsibility for self-regulation. Indeed, self-regulation is essential. Without self-regulation, duty of care simply becomes a game of who to blame if things go wrong.”

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Interesting? Yeah. Useful? Nah.

The last six months have seen a spate of marketing surveys about the impact of COVID19 on workplaces as well as the secondary consequences, such as mental health. On 18 January 2021, The Australian Financial Review (AFR) published an article based on one of these types of surveys conducted by the “work management platform Asana” which claimed:

“Almost three-quarters of Australians suffered burnout last year and the average office worker’s overtime nearly doubled from 236 hours in 2019 to 436 hours, a global study of more than 13,000 office workers reveals.”

This is inaccurate.

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one-in-five mental health stat clarified and given a future

Two years ago this blog looked at the origins and the permutations of the “one-in-five” phrase used in Australian reports about mental health. The earliest occurrence of the statistic was from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2007. It was hoped that the Productivity Commission (PC) would revisit the statistics in its recent inquiry into mental health. It did not, however a new statistical assessment of mental health is not too far away.

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OHS and the Four Day Week

Recently the BBC’s Business Daily had a short discussion about the introduction of the 4 Day Week. This workplace reform has knocked about for a few years now and seems to have some mental health and job satisfaction benefits. This is enough for it to interest occupational health and safety (OHS), especially as it is one of the few examples of a structural and organisational change rather than an intervention aimed at each individual worker.

The BBC discussion indicates the difference (it may be a schism) between a new way of thinking about work and the old traditional way. The opponent to the 4 Day Week emphasises the individual over the organisational and compares service industries to those that produce goods.

The episode, now a podcast, is a good introduction to the for and against of the 4 Day Week but careful listening shows the challenge ahead.

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Right information, wrong magazine

The OHS Professional magazine for December 2020 contains a very good article about workplace psychological risks and the occupational health and safety (OHS) strategy to prevent mental harm. The only negative is that it is not published in a Human Resources magazine, or one for company directors. The preventative techniques are well known to the OHS profession and based on independent scientific evidence, but it is other managerial disciplines that need to learn the difference between preventing psychological harm and providing symptomatic relief.

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