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Increased OHS penalties, mental health and suicide prevention
On March 9 2016, Victoria’s Industrial Relations Minister, Robin Scott, introduced a Bill to Parliament that increased an OHS penalty to $3,000,000 but also clarified the roles of WHS assessors and those conducting WHS training.
According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 allows for rules to be made concerning licensing, registration, qualifications, permits or certificates of competency, the authorisation of persons as trainers and the examination of applicants for licences, permits or certificates of competency. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007, prescribes requirements for the types of licences relevant to high risk work.
The Bill amends the legislation so that under the Occupational Health and Safety Act people can be authorised as both trainers and assessors.
The achievement of competency is a crucial element of any safety management system and any training that provides skills competencies should be of a high integrity. Specifying who is the skills trainer, the instructor, and who is the assessor or examiner is an important part of ensure that integrity.
The Minister’s Bill is a technical amendment to existing safety laws that tidies up the situation but also indicates that Government is not ignorant of workplace skills training needs and processes.
Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing
Lately there has been an upsurge in attention to workplace mental health and the significance of a mentally healthy workplace in business productivity but also work health and safety. This movement, largely from the public health advocates, is changing the way that WHS is being considered in many workplaces and this is flowing into WHS training.
Training courses provide the necessary skills and competencies to do a job safely and properly. But those skills need to be applied within different workplaces, with different safety strategies and different corporate priorities. Work does not occur in a vacuum and skills need to be adjusted, or the application of those skills need to be adjusted to fit those safety strategies. And those strategies are going to be couched in terms of wellness, wellbeing and mental health.
Some companies are going to be assessing workers on their fitness and capacity to work. If you are grossly overweight but still able to perform the job satisfactorily and apply the right set of skills, this may not be enough anymore. Companies may expect you to lose weight or undergo medical and fitness assessments, even though weight and fitness may not be essential elements for you to do your job without creating harm.
The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 developed by Safe Work Australia states one of the national visions is:
“promoting worker health, wellbeing and capacity to work,” (page 5)
It goes on to say that:
“Workers’ general health and wellbeing are strongly influenced by their health and safety at work. Well-designed work can improve worker health.” (page 10)
WHS professionals would interpret this statement as retuning to the basic ways work is undertaken and includes the reason for doing the job a certain way as well as the working conditions in which the task is performed an d whether the workplace fosters mental health rather than ill-health. Few employers are willing to investigate the way work is done to this extent as it could disrupt the production process and seriously threaten the business case for the business, particularly if that business has operated for some time.
Companies are applying a big picture approach to work health and safety which includes wellness and workplace mental health but the focus remains almost entirely on the physical and mental capacities of the worker instead of the conditions in which they work. Both the individual and the organisational factors need to be assessed to work safely
Although some wellbeing advocates talk about gyms and yoghurt, there are mental stresses in the construction and mining sectors that are real and can be addressed. According to Mates in Construction:
“Construction workers are twice as likely as others in the community to take their own lives”
“For a construction worker, you’re six times more likely to suicide than to die as a consequence of a workplace incident. If you’re under 24 that gets elevated to 10 times.”
Suicide is a real risk in the construction sector due to many factors such as the fluctuating work opportunities, the uneven work hours and isolation from home and family.
There are an increasing number of organisations who can provide assistance to those who are having suicidal thoughts – Mates in Construction is one, Lifeline is another. Many companies have access to employee assistance programs that are available to employees and contractors.
For more details on AlertForce’s nationally recognised WHS training, go to https://alertforce.com.au/
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