Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Assistant Secretary, Liam O’Brien, says “a massive gap” in work health and safety regulations has helped cause a rise in mental health injuries.
Speaking to On the Job with Francis Leach and Sally Rugg, O’Brien explained, “Mental health injuries are on the rise and they are the fastest growing compensable claim, which is really just a small fraction of people that are actually injured.
“That’s because there is this massive gap at the regulatory part, which says, there’s no real obligations on employers to specifically identify mental health hazards in the workplace and address them.”
O’Brien said the union movement are currently pushing for legal reform to ensure mental health is given equal status to physical health in Australian work health and safety laws.
While there is already a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers and others that come into your workplace or engage with your business – including mental health – more guidance is needed on how to manage mental health risks.
“Our work health and safety laws include a whole range of regulations. These are standards, essentially, that require duty holders, so those people running businesses, to identify specific risks in their business, and then control them in a very specific and effective way.
“There’s nothing, nothing anywhere, that says here is how you manage mental health hazards in the workplace,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien also believes mental health regulations would help address some of the barriers to effectively preventing mental health injury, including worker’s own perceptions about mental health.
“The biggest problem we’ve got with this is that workers see mental health as very much a personal issue, something that they bring to the workplace.
“Often it’s characterized as ‘you’re not resilient enough’, ‘you can’t deal with the stresses of normal working life’ and ‘you just got to toughen up and deal with it.’
“So, we think regulation is a really good signal to workplaces, that actually mental health is a work health and safety issue and that we should be fundamentally focused around preventing mental ill health.”
“We want workers to be covered by the best set of laws that provide protections and rights to workers to ensure healthy and safe work,” said O’Brien.
“We’re hopeful with this meeting next month, that we can bring about some serious reform to the laws, which is long overdue.”