Assessing the best places to work

On April 27 2022, a leading Australian business newspaper, the Australian Financial Review (AFR), included a supplement called the “Best Places to Work” (paywalled). I purchased a hard copy (yes, they are still available) to look for occupational health and safety (OHS) mentions.

“Best” is hard to define. It could mean safest, it could mean best paid, it could mean friendliest. Because the supplementary allocates awards for the best places to work, the judging consultants, Inventium, included its criteria. You can already guess some of the focus of the awards as Inventium is described as “Australia’s leading behavioural science consultancy”. The assessment of the applicants involves:

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We need a revolution in how we think about working hours

If there was only one way available to improve the health and safety of workers in Australia, it would be to limit and enforce working hours to those in the official Awards and job descriptions.

This situation which would really be simply a case of working-to-rule, would need to be supported by other not unreasonable changes, in no particular order:

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On mental health, everyone wants to win

In response to the first of this series of articles on Victoria’s proposed Psychological Health regulations, one reader provided an excellent outline of one of the roads leading to the proposal. It is certainly worth looking back to the Boland Review and recommendations, but it is also worth considering some of the politics around Minister Stitt’s announcement in May 2021.

Recently WorkSafe Victoria’s Principal Psychological Health and Safety Specialist, Dr Libby Brook, was interviewed on the Psych Health and Safety Podcast. In providing background to the proposed regulations, politics was touched upon, sort of, but it was good to hear directly from a WorkSafe representative on the issue and the proposed regulations. The interview illustrated some of the strengths and weaknesses in the regulations.

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Will workplace psychological regulations work?

Recently the Victorian Government released its proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations supported by a 106-page Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) written by Deloitte Access Economics. Public consultation and submissions are welcome up to the end of March 2022.

These regulations have been promised by the Victorian Government for some time and are likely to be debated in Parliament later in this (election) year. The RIS raises substantial questions, but the Regulations stem from primarily a political decision, so those political promises need to be examined.

This is the first of a series of articles on psychological health and the proposed regulations over the next few days.

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Working Hours and Leadership

The workplace issues of excessive hours, unpaid overtime and the negative mental health and social disruption effects are becoming more commonly discussed but not, necessarily, fixed.  A persistent example of these workplace hazards is the sitting of Parliament.

Parliamentarians are not always good examples of leadership and nor are they good managers of their workplace responsibilities, as shown by the response to sexual harassment and alleged assaults in the Federal Parliament House. A less controversial example of their management is the flexible hours applied to the passing of, usually contentious, legislation.

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Good COVID OHS book

Late last year, lawyer Michael Tooma and epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws published “Managing COVID-19 Risks in the Workplace – A Practical Guide”. Given how COVID-19 is developing variants, one would think that such a hard copy publication would date. However, the book is structured on the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligation of managing risks, and whether the variant is Delta, Omicron or Omega (if we get that far), the OHS principles and risk management hold up.

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Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws continue to be relevant even when operating in a time of a highly infectious pandemic, but they are increasingly sidelined.

At the moment there are labour shortages in Australia because of the large number of workers infected, and affected, by the Omicron variant of COVID-19; a shortage exacerbated by the varying isolation and testing regimes applied by the Federal and State governments. It is a bit of a mess.

It is worth reminding ourselves that employers have a duty to proved a safe and healthy work environment with the support of employees. Employees are obliged to not allow hazards to be brought to work. At the moment, some employees are being encouraged or required to return to work if they are showing no COVID-19 symptoms; if they are asymptomatic. But everyone knows from experience and official advice over the last two years that asymptomatic people can continue to be infectious. Requiring workers to return to work, as seemed to be happening at one South Australian worksite, while still potentially infectious seems contrary to both the employer’s and employee’s OHS obligations.

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