Diagnosis is the key

Part 2 of 2

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has reported on “mental health conditions” in its latest report on workers compensation claims and that these conditions represent 9% of claims for the 2018-2019 period (page 20). Claims have also increased in this category from 6,615 in 2000-2001 to over 10,000 in the latest data period. Mental health conditions are described elsewhere by SWA as affecting non-physical bodily locations (page 38).

As with many other reports, “mental health conditions” are not defined, but SWA states that this phrase is an alternative to “psychological injuries”. It also gives a numerical and dollar value to these conditions:

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Are “mental health conditions” good or bad?

Part 1 of 2

Many organisations provide support for those experiencing mental health conditions, in workplaces particularly. These are important services; some have filled the gap left by the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession and regulators who neglected psychological health to prioritise traumatic physical injuries. But what is meant by “mental health conditions”? SafetyAtWorkBlog went on a short desktop journey to find out.

On 14 October 2021, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a report called “Small Business, Mental Health; navigating the complex landscape“. Part of that complexity stems from the confusing terminology about “psychosocial health” and “workplace mental health”. The ACCI says:

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The invisible safety leader

Recently Ben Davidson was critical of married Australian Member of Parliament, Alan Tudge, for calling for an improvement in Australian values during an affair with one of his staffers. Hypocrisy also exists in businesses where employers are told that Leadership involves talk AND action but are not allowed sufficient time to do or show any action, leading to the invisible leader.

Leaders display hypocrisy all the time, and it is easy to let them off the hook by saying this is “a developing situation”, “a journey”, or some other polite excuse. Still, these Leaders are also grown-ups who are supposed to know what they are doing and be aware of their own shortcomings. This hypocrisy is often supported by the leadership team, investors and shareholders who can push for messages without substance and are willing to accept a veneer of good values as long as the dividends continue.

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Lessons for many in the prosecution of Pipecon

The prosecution of Pipecon over two of its workers who died in a trench collapse in March 2018 has opened in Ballarat’s County Court this week. Day one of the plea hearing was reported in the local newspapers and provided details of the circumstances of the events leading up to the deaths of Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee.

The investigation of Pipecon generated great bitterness in Ballarat and not only for the Howkins and Brownlee families. There were strong rumours that Pipecon would plead not guilty and argue that their workers were responsible for the trench collapse. Understandably people were angry that the responsibility for the worksite would be transferred to the dead workers.

Several weeks ago, the Court heard that Pipecon would plead guilty to breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. Those alleged breaches are being presented in the current plea hearing. As the case is being heard in the County Court, in time, additional details of the findings of the Court will be publicly released, as opposed to cases heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

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Be careful of the Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle has appeared regularly in SafetyAtWorkBlog articles. There is a new publication from the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in which this principle is succinctly explained in relation to COVID-19 but equally applicable to decisions on occupational health and safety (OHS).

The new publication “The Role of the Industrial Hygienist in a Pandemic, 2nd edition” includes a chapter on the Precautionary Principle. It is the first section of that chapter that is most relevant. It says:

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“no choice” = BS

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are increasingly applying to non-occupational situations. This “responsibility creep” may be part of the reason that public members are complaining about unfair restrictions on what they can do, on their choices, on the way they have done things for years. Many claim that they have no choice to do what they do, that the choice has been taken away from them, but there is always a choice, even if the consequences are uncomfortable.

The misrepresentation of OHS rules and obligations in the United Kingdom media led to a myth-busting program run by that country’s Health and Safety Executive. In many ways, the UK media was being mischievous by exploiting and exacerbating misunderstandings of OHS duties, but it had a significant cultural impact that lives on today. Traditionally OHS duties were easier to understand when they were contained in a workplace (or were seen to only apply to workplaces); when they jumped the fence, the social rules changed.

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“how-to-lift training does not work”

In 2017, this blog reported on an article from WorkSafe Queensland that said that manual handling training in “correct manual handling” or “safe lifting” did not prevent musculoskeletal injuries. WorkSafe supported this by extensive research, but training courses continue today, perpetuating an over-reliance on manual handling as a suitable risk control measure, which does not meet the compliance requirements of the occupational health and safety laws.

Last month WorkSafe Queensland released a video that updated and reinforced their position.

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