Jeff Kennett to moderate workplace psychological injury forum
Jeff Kennett, chair of national depression initiative 'beyondblue', will moderate a forum of high profile panellists addressing psychological injuries in the workplace.
The panel brings together a diverse range of interests, comprising business and union leaders, clinicians, lawyers, researchers and people who have experienced depression. Called The Safety Inquisition, the forum is a focal point of the wider occupational health and safety (OHS) event, Safety in Action and Materials & Manual Handling.
The forum's announcement comes after Mr Kennett was awarded the country's top civilian honour in recognition for his work with beyondblue, a Companion in the General Division. The former Victorian Premier will direct questions from the audience to panel members, who include Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace policy director, Peter Anderson; Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten; and Comcare general manager research and strategy, Dr Jane Romeyn.
Rounding out the panel are beyondblue deputy CEO Nicole Highet; author, OHS lawyer and Deacons partner, Michael Tooma; and Ellen Flint, who will tell of her own experience with depression.
The Safety Inquisition's theme, 'A state of mind? - psychological injury in the workplace', reflects the controversy surrounding the significant financial impact of stress at work. While the high incidence of stress-related claims is uncontested, the link between workplace stress and illness is contentious.
National workers' compensation figures show mental stress causes the most lost time of any workplace injury in Australia at an average of 16.6 weeks. Australian government insurer, Comcare, reports that in 2003-2004, claims for psychological injury accounted for 7 per cent of total claims but almost 27 per cent of total claim costs.
Those compensation costs could be just a fraction of the real cost of workplace stress because workers tend to take sick leave rather than lodge claims. In 1997, an Australian Council of Trade Unions survey of 12,000 workers revealed that one in four had been absent due to stress.
Debate arises when it comes to linking workplace stress with depression. Beyond-blue estimates depression costs the Australian economy $3.3 billion in lost productivity each year, but its depression in the workplace program draws a clear distinction between normal sadness or stress and the illness of depression. In fact, beyondblue challenges the concept of 'workplace stress' and current management practices, which normally entail time off work.
Peak employer body, the ACCI is also concerned about the rising number of stress-related claims but, in a 2002 issues paper, stated that despite the "huge body of research on stress" there is conflicting statistical and scientific evidence linking workplace stress and work caused disease. The ACCI also highlights the difficulty of isolating the cause of stress to workers' home or working lives.
Event organiser, Marie Kinsella, Australian Exhibitions and Conferences, said The Safety Inquisition would bring representatives from all sides of the workplace depression debate together for the first time.
"We don't expect to reach agreement on the day but are pleased The Safety Inquisition will open discussion and put psychological injury on the agenda," she said.
"Most of all, we hope it will encourage Australians in distress and those around them who see the warning signs to call people who can help, like beyondblue."
The Safety Inquisition on psychological injury in the workplace will be held during Safety In Action and Materials & Manual Handling on 22 March 2005 at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.
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