Organisational restructuring/downsizing, OHS regulation and worker health and wellbeing

Michael Quinlan
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 2007, 30 (4-5): 385-99
A growing body of international evidence indicates that downsizing and related forms of organisational restructuring are having profound adverse effects on worker safety, health and wellbeing. In particular, evidence links downsizing to poorer mental health outcomes, including bullying and other forms of occupational violence. In Australia federal, state and territory occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation imposes obligations on employers who make changes to the workplace or work processes to identify hazards, undertake risk assessment, consult with employee representatives and take appropriate steps to manage any significant hazards that are identified, including psychosocial hazards. This study shows that while Australian regulators are aware of the problems posed by downsizing they have made only modest efforts to pursue compliance with legislative duties, producing some guidance material that refers to restructuring and workloads and launching a small number of prosecutions. At the same time, there is an increased willingness to address staffing levels and other impacts of downsizing (like working in isolation). Employer and union responses were also examined. The article concludes by identifying a number of initiatives that would enable regulators, unions and employers to address the problems posed by downsizing more effectively.

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