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National guidance on work-related psychological health and safety

11 September, 2018

Dr Peta Miller, Special Adviser for Safe Work Australia, said that while work-related psychological injury is expensive, we know what causes harm and that taking preventative action works.

“Poor psychological safety costs Australian organisations $6 billion per annum in lost productivity. This is primarily because psychological injuries typically require three times more time off work than other injuries.

“Additionally, workplaces with poor psychological working conditions accrue 43 per cent more sick days per month.”

Dr Miller explained that work-related psychological injury can be caused by excessive time pressures, unreasonable deadlines and poorly managed organisational change.

“Interpersonal conflict, harassment and bullying, and exposure to occupational violence are also critical causes of work-related injury.

“Most importantly, however, you can prevent workers becoming ill by taking preventative action and by intervening early.”

Dr Miller said that identifying the hazards to good mental health, assessing how severe the risks are, and taking steps to eliminate and control the risks are essential steps to building a healthy and safe workplace.

“You can prevent your workers becoming ill or sustaining a psychological injury by responding to early warning signs and incidents – an increase in unplanned absence, uncharacteristic behaviour and workplace conflict are all clues that things aren’t quite right,” said Miller.

“Most importantly, workers will offer the most valuable insights – they know what causes them harm, and will have ideas about how to most effectively address the dangers to their mental health.

“My advice is to listen to the people doing the work.”

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Dr Peter Rosenweg | Thursday, September 13, 2018, 5:05 AM
Addressing mental state and safety attributes in line with Dr Miller's thoughts, have shown cost-effective results. Most would agree that poor psychological states lead to poor safety behaviours. That It is better and cheaper to deal with the threat than the incident. We have been working in this area for some 15 years to limit the impact that workers psychological state and self regulating skills have on injury and performance. To that extent we accumulated some 54,168 tests over a period from some 1040 industrial firms with a well validated situational safety awareness instrument, finding in abundance that poor safety attributes did not equate with good safety attitudes. In particular, we found that 48%.of the workforce reported very poor fatigue management behaviours, more than 41% were unable to identify risk in their environments, some 27% obtained a poor result on a test of mental alertness and more than 24% stated that they had poor attention recovery and emotional resilience. The first organisation in 2006 found in a controlled study (N=1000) assessing safety attributes resulted in a 90% virtual difference in their incident rate. In another, identifying and working to improve mental state and safety attributes through coaching resulted in the achievement of a rare zero incident rate over a 12 month period in one part of the organisation. That organisation is continuing now to ensure all of their people have the opportunity to participate in the same process. I would be happy to expand on the methodology to organisations interested in exploring how this experience could benefit. (Dr Peter Rosenweg Phd - Mob: 0419392351)