I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
Physical vs Psychological Injuries
July 19, 2016
Physical and psychological injuries both affect organisational performance
Heinrichs Safety recently attended a mental health first aid course in Melbourne. Facilitated through one of the Victorian workers' compensation insurers, the two-day course provided a fascinating insight into mental illnesses in Australia. The presenter had experienced mental illness herself, bringing a valuable authenticity to the course. Developed 15 years ago by Mental Health First Aid Australia, the course has been provided to over 200,000 Australians. It equips participants with the first aid skills to identify, uncover and respond to mental illness symptoms in others. Similar to its physical health counterpart, the course is delivered as a package of knowledge and skills, and attendees can use these capabilities beyond the workplace across all parts of life.
One of the most cutting insights was the trainer's comparison between physical and mental injuries. In terms of debilitation and quality of life, severe clinical depression is comparable to paraplegia. That statement takes some serious consideration. When one considers the prevalence of depression (1 in 8 Australians will suffer some form of depression in their lives), the potential harm the illness causes is hard to comprehend.
Fans of the AFL will be familiar with the rising incidence of mental illness in that sport. Of note is arguably the code’s greatest player Lance 'Buddy' Franklin missing his team's finals series in 2015 due to mental illness. Richmond's new recruit Chris Yarran’s case is another in a growing list of ‘mental injuries’. Whilst perhaps comparing a serious issue to a football competition treads a line of integrity, comparing both areas in an occupational setting places the injury into a useful context.
The finals represented the pinnacle of Buddy's trade. A reasonable analogy might be a graduate's exams, a lawyer's trial date, or an artist's gallery opening. A lot of hard work had gone into reaching that stage. Buddy giving up his chance to attain his ultimate goal crystallised the issue for fans of the sport, and potentially for others who have not experienced mental illness. Were we to compare the absentee to another workplace scenario, a CEO missing an AGM perhaps, the true gravitas of the affliction hits home. Those familiar with mental health know that the illness does not discriminate; but for others, the case plainly demonstrates this.
In an organisational context, unless your business is fully automated with robots, the issue represents a critical risk. Under Australian occupational safety law, employers are required to provide a workplace free of hazards that may harm workers' health, including psychological health. Debilitating injuries to workers, which can cause personnel to miss work and endure a lower quality of life, are bad for business. Whilst physical hazards have attracted strong attention since safety laws began (i.e. plant/equipment, noise, and manual handling), businesses have taken longer to treat hazards to mental health in the same manner. Physical or mental injuries both have similar effects on business, and as the mental health first aid course outlines, both have significant impacts on the injured, their families and the community.
A benefit of this concept is that the comparisons extend right through to 'return to work' and recovery. This means the majority of mental injuries can be treated, the best place for the injured to be is back at work as soon as possible, and that mentally injured people can lead full, happy and productive lives after rehabilitation and recovery. From the organisation's perspective, mental and physical injuries can both have impacts on worker health, productivity, and business success. Both injuries are caused by hazards, and thanks to improving research these hazards are increasingly able to be identified and mitigated. It will be interesting to see how or if the current review of Victoria's occupational safety regulations includes psychosocial hazards.
What are the critical hazards to the mental health of your people? Are your workers equipped to deliver mental and physical health first aid for both types of 'injuries'? Are you able to approximately quantify the risks mental health hazards pose to your workers?
Contact us at Heinrichs Safety for occupational health and safety risk assessment advice, support and guidance.