safety and mental health training

Recently, we surveyed our readership and we received requests to be kept up-to-date with work health and safety legislation changes.  The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 launched on 31 October 2012 and updated in April 2018. Under this Strategy, Australia made significant progress in improving work health and safety outcomes, including a 41% reduction in the fatality rate and 26% reduction in the work-related injuries rate since its inception. This article firstly provides the key updates to the Strategy with links to key documents so you are up-to-date and secondly, discusses the top priority conditions of musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions to learn what works and what doesn’t when managing within the work health and safety context.

The Strategy in a Nutshell

The Strategy is underpinned by two key principles:

  • All workers regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
  • Well-designed healthy and safe work will allow workers in Australia to have more productive working lives.

The Strategy sets three national targets to be achieved by 2022:

  • A reduction in the number of worker fatalities due to injury of at least 20%.
  • A reduction in the incidence rate of claims resulting in one or more weeks off work of at least 30%.
  • A reduction in the incidence rate of claims for musculoskeletal disorders resulting in one or more weeks off work of at least 30%.

How these targets will be measured during the life of the Strategy is explained in Measuring progress towards targets: reducing the incidence of work-related death, injury and illness.

The Strategy has a range of national priority areas that together set the framework for a nationally coordinated effort to achieve its vision and targets. There are seven action areas:

  • healthy and safe by design
  • supply chains and networks
  • health and safety capabilities
  • leadership and culture
  • research and evaluation
  • government
  • responsive and effective regulatory framework.

Seven national priority industries have been chosen for prevention activities due to their high rates of injury and/or fatalities:

  • agriculture
  • road transport
  • manufacturing
  • construction
  • accommodation and food services
  • public administration and safety
  • health care and social assistance.

There are six priority work-related conditions based on the severity of consequences for workers:

  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • mental health conditions
  • cancers (including skin cancer and asbestos-related cancers)
  • occupational lung diseases
  • contact dermatitis
  • noise-induced hearing loss.

Let’s Look at Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.. Common MSDs include: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Tendonitis. Muscle/Tendon strain. Safe Work Australia report that over the five-year period between 2009–10 and 2013–14, there were 360,180 serious MSD claims, which equates to 60% of all serious claims for the period. Injuries accounted for 76% of MSD claims, while diseases accounted for 24%. Common types of MSD injuries were soft tissue disorders (29%), trauma to muscles or tendons (21%), and trauma to joints or ligaments (14%).

Hazardous manual tasks are the key contributor to MSDs and require people to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain a person, animal or object. Work that involves repetitive strain or force, high or sudden force, awkward posture and vibration can lead to injuries developing immediately or over time. The biggest question is why is a person performing the lift in the first place?

Research is clearly showing that training in correct lifting techniques fails because it is reliant on human behaviour which can vary depending on the work environment. The ‘straight back, bend your knees’ lifting principles cannot always be easily applied and are therefore ineffective in reducing manual handling injuries. Pre-work stretches also do little to prevent injury. Back belts also have no proven protection against the risk of back injuries. Gym balls, used as alternatives to office chairs, are unstable and likely to increase the risk of a fall.

Prevention measures include determining the best way to safely lift, with the preference for mechanical lifts and reducing the need to perform manual handling tasks. Participative ergonomics also has considerable benefits to the workplace because it asks all workers across the organisation to work together to find solutions to work-related ergonomic problems (click here to learn out six workplace safety myths, culture and training).

Where Does Interactive Training Fit In?

By law we need to provide a safe system of work and train our people how to work safely within that environment. We are required to train specifically about workplace hazards and continue to monitor competency and knowledge about the best way to control workplace hazards as part of our work health and safety risk management processes. Research tells us that adults learn differently from each other and varied methods of training delivery should be considered. Passive learning such as reading text, watching PowerPoint slides and videos have limited effect on safety performance. Classroom training fails to acknowledge the need for self-paced learning that most adult learners require. Literacy, language proficiency and learning disabilities e.g. dyslexia, all affect the consumption of training, the acquisition of knowledge and the transferring of that knowledge into practice.

So where does interactive training fit in? Research across a number of disciplines shows that engagement and interactivity are the key to embedded knowledge and influence on work health and safety behaviour (click here for research on the effectiveness of using mobile devices to train). One solution is Tap into Safety which offers interactive and engaging work health and safety training that is delivered via smart devices and online. Our software has been designed to support workers with low literacy or minimal English language capabilities. We don’t use PowerPoint, we use real workplace photographic, panoramic examples that workers relate to because they show their work sites. The training is delivered in 15 minute modules and can be even be accessed by sub-contractors with their competencies verified before they step foot on site.  If you’d like to know more please click through and try a free online demo.

Diving Into Workplace Mental Health

Managing mental health is often a minefield for workplaces as it moves squarely into the work health and safety realm. Research provides information on statistics, priority plans, strategies and solutions (click here for key workplace mental health research). Globally, the total number of people living with depression is estimated at 322 million. The total number of people living with anxiety globally is estimated at 264 million. These are astounding numbers that shows that mental illness has increased by almost 18.4% (depression) and 15% (anxiety) in the last 10 years. Depression and anxiety are more common among females (4.6%) than males (2.6%). Depression rates peak in older adulthood (above 7.5% among females aged 55-74 years, and above 5.5% among males). The good news is the older you get, the lower the prevalence of anxiety, with 35-49 year old women most at risk. In America the highest rates of anxiety are recorded.  WHO estimates that 7.7% of the female population suffer from anxiety. Suicide accounted for almost 1.5% of all deaths worldwide, bringing it into the top 20 leading causes of death in 2015. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally in 2015.

Workplace mental health interventions generally target mental health using three related yet separate threads: medicine, public health and psychology.  First, reducing work-related risk factors to protect mental health. Second, developing the positive aspects of work, worker strengths and capacities to promote mental health. Third, irrespective of cause, address worker’s mental health concerns (click here to view 5 Ways Business Can Address Mental Health).

How Can Technology Help?

Early intervention is the key and technology can help.  Technology is available 24/7, and the constant connectivity is helpful, particularly if we offer mental health training, information and support via mobile devices. One solution is Tap into Safety. This software platform helps organisations identify staff groups with mental health issues early. It helps to increase mental health literacy by providing refresher training on workplace stressors that impact mental health. Finally, it provides an alternative non-confrontational way to encourage help-seeking. Click through to access the White Paper that demonstrates how organisations have successfully used the solution to increase help-seeking and reduce stigma, or to access the new free online demo.

If after reading this article you feel you need immediate support, please contact Lifeline.


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