Physical activity, mental health, alcohol consumption and productivity

Free Access

The Victorian Government’s workplace health strategy may be “coughing up blood” but health promotion continues.  Last week, Australian health insurer, Medibank Private, released some statistics and cost estimates related to physical inactivity.

According to the media release, physical inactivity costing the Australian economy $13.8 billion a year. The findings are based on research conducted in conjunction with KPMG-Econtech which builds on Medibank’s 2007 research and “captures the healthcare costs, economy wide productivity costs, and the mortality costs of individuals passing away prematurely as a result of physical inactivity.”

Craig Bosworth of Medibank Private says, 

“Most Australians are aware of the benefits of physical activity but this latest round of Medibank research has revealed some alarming effects of physical inactivity. An estimated 16,179 people die prematurely each year due to conditions and diseases attributable to physical inactivity and that is frightening. And whilst the majority of these are from the older population there is also a large number of people dying under 74 years of age due to physical inactivity, particularly in the male population.”

Bosworth goes on to say:

“Like other health risk factors, physical inactivity can have an adverse effect on organisations as well as individuals. Specifically, physical inactivity can impact on employee productivity by causing increased absenteeism and presenteeism, which impose direct economic costs on employers. The Medibank research has found that productivity loss due to physical inactivity equates to 1.8 working days per worker per year.”

Three audio statements on this research are available – physical-inactivity-telephone-grabs-edit

The SuperFriend Industry Funds Forum Mental Health Foundation has also released statistics on mental health in the workplace. The survey also found that 50 per cent of Australians admit to often feeling stressed and a quarter often feel depressed. 

John Mendoza, Chair of SuperFriend’s Mental Health Reference Group, said, “There is increasing evidence of a link between stress in the workplace and mental illness. The cost of workplace stress to Australian business is potentially crippling.” Listen – workplace-mental-health-edit

The Superfriends survey found

  • One in two Australians believe that having a few drinks is a good way to maintain or improve their mental health;
  • 80 per cent of Australians believe watching TV has a positive impact on their mental health;
  • Australians are putting their bodies ahead of their brains, with three-quarters of Australians engaged in activity to maintain or improve their physical health, while only 50 per cent are actively engaging in activity to maintain or improve their mental health.
  • Older Australians are more likely to heed the call ‘use it or lose it’. While 57 per cent of all Australians feel they take good care of their mental health, 68 per cent of those over 50 feel they are looking after themselves emotionally.
  • Australians aged 40 to 49 are the unhappiest and unhealthiest. Those in this age group are more likely to feel stressed and depressed and less likely to look after their physical and mental health.

A good starting point in planning to manage stress is the StressWise publication by WorkSafe Victoria.

For many decades, perhaps centuries, unhappiness at work was countered, to varying degrees, through the consumption of alcohol.  According to the latest Australian Unity Wellbeing Index people who drink everyday are the happiest, whereas non-drinkers have a lower sense of wellbeing.

Amanda Hagan of Australian Unity summarises some of the research findings and supports the link between physical activity and positive wellbeing. Listen – australian-unity-wellbeing-index-aap-medianet-edit

Worker’s Compensation Funds and global financial problems

Free Access

(Particularly) since the fall of Lehman Brothers, the returns on investments throughout the world have dived.  Australia has been relatively unaffected but the signs are starting to look bad and if it wasn’t for China and India buying the country’s resources, Australia’s economy would more closely resemble Europe and the United States.


Martin Hamilton-Smith talking with listeners on 5AA radio
Martin Hamilton-Smith talking with listeners on 5AA radio

This turmoil provides a free-kick for opposition political parties who can question governments on their economic performance and foresight.  For some time the South Australian opposition leader, Martin Hamilton-Smith, has been attacking in just this manner.  Last week the WorkCover Corporation released its annual report.  It happened to be during a sitting of Parliament so question time was peppered with WorkCover-related questions.


Often, the discussion is empty argy-bargy but Liberal Party leader Hamilton-Smith asked the most important question based on the 2008 Annual Report.

Can the Minister for Industrial Affairs explain to the house why WorkCover Corporation’s income from investments appears to have fallen by a quarter of a billion dollars in one financial year?

One has to remember that that Annual Report covers 2007-2008 and the financial crisis has only really cranked up in 2008.  WorkCover Corporation lost $238 million.  WorkCover Minister Paul Caica responded by blaming global problems so Hamilton-Smith asked another question, how much has been lost in the current financial year?

Paul Caica, understandably, did not have those figures available but the question highlighted the importance of chronology in the management of workers compensation funds.  When the international investment market started to fail, how did the fund managers of WorkCover Corporation react?

This will become increasingly important as other State Governments in Australia begin releasing their departmental annual reports over the next few months.  The Victorian Government has a habit of releasing their annual reports in such a way that adequate scrutiny is impossible.  The honour and trustworthiness of governments will be shown by how open and accountability they can be in the next 12 months.

But don’t allow them the easy “out” of blaming the global financial crisis for underperformance.  In the area of workers compensation, it is our premiums that provide them their economic base.

Young Worker Safety – Part 2

Free Access

A Canadian OHS colleague has drawn attention to a younger worker safety site at  This is also a very good site and the humour is appreciated.

Another colleague has said that the WorkSafe Victoria site captivated his teenagers for 30 minutes.

The trick in commenting on any of these websites is that they are only one part, usually, of a larger safety campaign.   Blogs don’t allow for a full assessment of the campaign unless the blogger fits the campaign’s demographics and is fed all the campaign stats, data and marketing justifications directly from the regulator.

With this understanding, comments from readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog are greatly appreciated.

Young Worker Safety – “The Pain Factory”

Free Access

At a recent safety conference in Australia, many presenters used videos downloaded from the internet, either to educate the audience or to titillate.  The internet abounds with videos of people doing stupid things or injuring themselves.

I am not beyond laughing at a man being hit in the testicles.  Indeed most “family” movies currently have a bang in the testicles, a fart gag or a pooh joke. 

WorkSafe Victoria has made a valiant effort to link stupid internet videos with a message about workplace safety.  Recently the authority produced a website “The Pain Factory“.  This site has a collection of internet videos that show people being hurt.  Whether the injuries are severe and required hospitalisation is unclear.

Viewers are encouraged to watch a number of  videos to accrue “points” from which special locked videos are available.  These videos depict another bang in the scrotum, a BMX rider smashing his face and a skateboard rider being run over by an SUV.

I don’t like the approach, the language is sometimes dismissive of injuries and the issue of pain is uncomfortable but this site is not meant for me and it may appeal to those under 20 years.  I kept remembering the trade union comments about the recent graphic ads and I wondered if, from the Pain Factory, young workers will ask their employers for help or feel ashamed of their own stupidity and not report an injury.  There is little indication of the support systems and services that are available to workers.

However, WorkSafe is trying something new, different and using Web 2.0.  It’s a step in the right technological direction but I suspect the safety conservatives may complain (if they find the site – it’s not linked through the WorkSafe website, however this may be on purpose)

New South Wales Safety Awards Night

Free Access

On the night of the 29 October 2008 over 570 people attended the WorkCover NSW Safety Awards.  The awards are in their fifth year and the ceremony was professional, well organised and, perhaps most importantly, an excellent opportunity for safety professionals to meet others.  There were clients and advisers, ergonomists and hygienists, health and safety reps, regulators and employer groups in the audience.  As the CEO of WorkCover NSW, Jon Blackwell said, there were over 570 safety advocates and believers.

The award winners were all worthy of the awards but there needed to be more innovation and there needed to be a spark of inspiration in the nominees and the award winners.  Of the winners, the Dorsal Boutique was a standout for several reasons.  The solution was innovative, quirky and applicable to a wide variety of hospitality worksites.  The boutique won the award for the “Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue with bed lifting system that reduced the manual handling hazards associated with making a bed.

Many of the other finalists were often tweaks on existing technology but none were breathtaking.  And it is this extreme that such award processes should aim to reward.  It may be that the pool was small although there were more applications in 2008 than in previous years.

The shallowness of the pool was also indicated by many on the systems awards coming from companies undertaking the legislative OHS duties that have existed for decades.  They were not in new industry sectors or challenging sectors which would have added value. 

This is not to belittle the personal achievements of the finalists and award winners.  Speaking to several on the night, their efforts and sacrifices were clear and in some cases, life-changing for themselves and others but the consultative, compliance standards being rewarded were where the businesses should have been already.

There were several award finalists who, it was stated in the introductions in the Leadership category, had already participated closely in WorkCover’s Assist and mentoring programs.  Participation should not exclude companies from eligibility for a WorkCover Award but the WorkCover involvement would provide a considerable leg-up in the stakes and provide a prominence that other companies may not have access to.

However, it is acknowledged that these are the WorkCover Awards.  The judging panel has three WorkCover representatives, one union representative and one form the employers.  There were no independent safety professionals, ergonomists, engineers or hygienists.

Over the last few years in OHS awards around the country there have been many solutions that have gone on to The New Inventors and many have come through that show.  It’s judging criteria is just as questionable as any other but at least that program is from outside the industry sectors of the inventors, there is some effort for independence, and some understanding of the commercial reality facing many of the applicants.

WorkCover is to be congratulated for providing as much judging criteria as it has on each award.  This adds value and veracity to the award winners and finalists but perhaps with the harmonisation of OHS laws and processes, it is time to save each State regulator big dollars and to put finalists onto a proper national platform by putting all our efforts into the national award process


WorkCover New South Wales Safety Awards 2008
WorkCover New South Wales Safety Awards 2008