Psycho-social workplace issues

Psycho-social workplace issues – George’s Safety Reflections

Guest post by the late George Robotham 

I have only had to deal with one psycho-social claim in my time managing workers compensation and rehabilitation. A female secretary was being harassed and bullied by her female boss. The department manager knew what was happening, did nothing to manage the situation, tried to sweep it under the carpet and generally mismanaged the situation with the result that relationships between the 2 parties deteriorated.

By the time I got involved in my role as Rehabilitation coordinator the secretary had a medical certificate for many months off work due to stress. She was a mess but fortunately she had a supportive family. I liaised with her treating health professionals and sympathetic managers at work and eventually found her a position where she was able to gradually return to work. She was very happy that she had been removed from the bullying behaviour and that we had shown a lot of interest in resolving her issues.

The thing that concerned me was how little sympathy the secretary received from her peers, the people who said she should just toughen up did not understand the extent of the problems she had been exposed to.

The difficult area with psycho-social cases is what part of it is attributable to the person’s particular psychological makeup and what is attributable to work, this is where you need the mental health experts. Once these issues emerge they can be very difficult and time consuming to resolve.

Much better to treat your employees with respect and dignity to start with and constantly monitor if problems are occurring. Sometimes relatively minor issues can result in perceived difficulties.

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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