Take a nap. Eat a snack.

There are more than 1.4 million shift workers in Australia and the chance of them falling asleep at work is 60 per cent greater than those who work during the day.

Naps can help improve alertness. Many shift workers nap before and during their shift, and often before driving home in the morning.

Generally, when shift workers are sleepy, they turn to food for comfort. Tests have shown that those who eat a large meal during their night shift feel sleepier than those who don’t eat at all. The best advice is to eat a snack and avoid large meals.

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The best way to improve employee’s mental health

In Australia, more than six million employees take sick leave every year due to mental illness. Moreover, untreated mental health conditions are resulting in $10.9 billion being lost every year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.

A world-first study published in Lancet Psychiatry, led by researchers at the Black Dog Institute and University of NSW, suggests that basic mental health training for managers can result in significant benefits for employees.

The research looked at the effects of a four-hour mental health training program delivered to Fire & Rescue NSW managers.

It found that the training was associated with a return on investment of $9.98 for each dollar spent on training and major reductions in work-related sickness absence. It is also the first study to show that training managers about mental health can have a direct impact in improving occupational outcomes for workers.

‘Having a supportive manager can make a huge difference to a person’s mental wellbeing, and as this study shows, giving basic mental health training to managers can bring significant changes to both confidence and behaviour among staff,’ says Samuel Harvey, who leads the Workplace Mental Health Research Program at the Black Dog Institute.

Help us shape the future of mental health in small business

According to the NSW Mental Health Commission, 17 per cent of people in NSW will experience mild to severe mental illness each year and a further 23 per cent are believed to have an undiagnosed mental health problem. With 1.51 million people working in small business in NSW, approximately 600,000 may be affected each year.

The opportunity to change the mental health and wellbeing of the NSW community by targeting small business is great.

Despite the availability of effective treatments for mental health conditions, evidence suggests that many people either do not seek treatment at all, or seek treatment following lengthy delays, during which the health, social and work consequences can accumulate.

Evidence also suggests that current workplace mental health programs tend to focus on larger organisations and industries and are not addressing the unique nature or the specific needs of small business.

Researchers at Everymind are developing a workplace mental health program for those who work in small business. They will work in partnership with the Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research at the University of Newcastle, the icare Foundation, and other health, mental health and business partners in NSW and nationally.

If you own a small business or have worked in a small business (20 employees or less), tell us what you think about mental health!

A range of mental health resources are also available from our website or call 13 10 50.

Depressed? Tell someone.

Almost 50 per cent of Australian workers who take time off work due to depression keep the reason hidden from their employer.

This was a key finding of a national study, Impact of Depression at Work: Australia Audit, released recently by SANE Australia.

The research found that almost 1 in 2 (48 per cent) did not tell employers about their depression as they felt that being truthful about why they were off work could put their jobs at risk.

Depression has a variety of symptoms and will affect everyone in different ways. Symptoms include: feeling extremely sad or tearful; disturbances to normal sleep patterns; loss of interest and motivation; feeling worthless or guilty; loss of pleasure in activities; anxiety; changes in appetite or weight; loss of sexual interest; physical aches and pains; impaired thinking or concentration.

Treatment can do much to reduce and even eliminate the symptoms of depression. Treatment may include a combination of medication, individual therapy and community support.

Workplace mental wellness expert and RUOK board member, Graeme Cowan, says mental health issues don’t discriminate.

‘Employee mental wellbeing must be at the top of every CEO’s agenda,’ icare CEO Vivek Bhatia says.

Get everything you need to develop a simple, effective and sustainable workplace health program.

6 tips for a healthy workplace

If you’re a typical time-poor small employer, why on earth would you want to devote valuable time encouraging your workers to get healthier?

Well, aside from a big morale boost, business benefits could be up to three times more productivity, less sick leave and fewer injuries. In a nutshell, a healthy workplace is very good for your business.

Research reveals healthy workers are fitter, more aware, alert and resilient against illness, and less likely to sustain manual handling injuries and strains.

While bigger businesses with more resources can afford to establish a formal health and wellbeing program, such an expense is probably a bit of a stretch for you. But fear not, there are still plenty of inexpensive things you can do to help make a difference.

Even small changes can have a huge impact, so here are six ideas:

  1. Target workers’ eating habits, especially if lunchtime fare is fast food high in saturated fats such as burger and fries. Install a larger fridge and an extra microwave so more staff can bring in meals from home to reheat – also saving them money.
  2. Offer more flexible working hours so workers go for walks, runs or swims, or attend a gym at lunchtime. Speak to a local fitness club about offering discount memberships for your workers.
  3. Print out simple exercise guides to place around the workplace.
  4. Establish a ‘break-out’ room where workers can make personal phone calls or have some quiet time.
  5. Help workers to quit smoking.
  6. Establish a workplace zero injuries target and promote this over one month, progressing to three then six months.

Get more great ideas about how you can help your workers get healthier and your business better.

Create a safety culture

The safest and most productive workplaces are ones where safety practices have become part of the everyday business and second nature to workers.

Such a major shift might not be possible overnight but you can help get your workers on the right track by encouraging them not just to think and talk about safety, but to also look out for hazards and each other.

And to nurture a successful safety culture, you need to reassure workers that it is okay to report a potential hazard or unsafe work practice, or share ideas about how to do the task better. As renowned US workplace safety expert, John Drebinger, points out, workers should always be praised and thanked for raising concerns.

‘That’s how you create a safety culture: to make people feel so good they’re looking for the next person to help. Pointing out hazards becomes expected when everyone does it and gets praised for it,’ he said.

So stress to your workers that by keeping an eye on co-workers’ safety, their own safety awareness will improve and if everyone does the same, then the chances of incidents could dramatically drop.

Creating a good safety culture requires you to respond quickly to unsafe work practices and demonstrates a commitment to safety. Workers need to see that reporting is encouraged with a ‘no blame’ attitude and acted upon via appropriate measures to eliminate or minimise risks.

It’s best to ask your workers what risks are involved with a job as they may have good ideas about how to do it more safely. If workers are, for example, cutting corners, this could be because they have insufficient time, working space, resources, or necessary equipment requiring maintenance.

Any safe work procedure changes should be done in consultation with workers and followed up with refresher training and tool box talks.

If you can get all of your workers singing from the same song book, then the chances of every one being able to return home to loved ones safely at the end of a working day will be greatly improved.

Visit safetystartswithyou.nsw.gov.au and start a conversation about safety today.

A roadmap in action

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service employs roughly 100 staff, who spend hours above the skies to save more than 1000 lives per year from its bases in Newcastle and Tamworth.

While their brave jobs are frequently in the spotlight, it’s the tireless role of the 950 volunteers that work behind the scenes that is perhaps less known.

These volunteers are crucial to the future of the service so it’s absolutely vital that the organisation looks after not only the safety of their rescue staff, but also their great volunteers.

“We need to ensure that not only our staff, but also our volunteers go home in the same shape that they came to work in,” said Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, Community Liaison Officer and WHS Committee member, Mick Wilson.

When they started to develop a new plan this year to ensure the safety of their volunteers, Mr Wilson said his organisation turned to SafeWork NSW’s Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022 (Roadmap) for inspiration.

Launched in August, the Roadmap is a six-year strategy aimed at protecting workers from harm, reducing unnecessary compliance costs and securing safety standards in NSW workplaces.

Mr Wilson said that the Roadmap had provided his organisation with a clear outline in terms of how to improve safety outcomes for their staff and volunteers.

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“The fact that it highlights a need to reduce musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses was a big influencer for us. The work our staff and volunteers do involves a lot of manual handling and we all know simple things can become long term injuries if they’re not addressed in a safe manner. The support from Safework NSW to assist has also been amazing.” Mr Wilson said.

Since its launch in August, SafeWork NSW has already started a wide range of activities that are contributing to the goals of a 20 per cent decline in worker fatalities, a 30 per cent decline in serious injuries and illnesses and a 30 per cent reduction in serious musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses by 2022.

In a little over three months since the Roadmap launch, SafeWork NSW has already accomplished a significant amount as well as planning and development of new activities and initiatives to support the Roadmap.

To help ensure that businesses can embed a health and safety landscape into their workplaces, SafeWork NSW has developed the Talking to your workers about safety webinar, and has started work on a Supply Chain and Network Guide as well as a Consultation@Work Strategy.

SafeWork NSW is also focused on prioritising high risk sectors, harms and workplaces. Work has started on drafting sector profiles to provide data on risks, issues and demographics for high risk sectors identified in the Roadmap. The NSW quad bike safety improvement program and forklift safety initiatives will also continue well into 2017.

SafeWork NSW recognises the cost and impact of mental disorders and is currently reviewing and engaging with stakeholders on our Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy 2022. Our approach to targeting serious musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses is also under review with a new strategy planned for early in 2017.

Finally, SafeWork NSW is focused on building exemplar regulatory services. Further details can be found in Our Approach to WHS Regulation.

The recent release of the SafeWork NSW Strategic Business Plan 2016-17 aligns with the Roadmap and provides details on the four strategic focus areas of SafeWork NSW for 2016/17.

For more information on the Roadmap, or to get involved, click here.