Safety learnings from construction 7

Kevin Jones 2015

The author onsite earlier this year

I have recently finished some years of full-time work as a safety adviser on a range of construction projects in Australia and below is a list of some of what I have learnt (in no particular order).

Ask questions

People may initially think you are an idiot but, if you are genuinely interested, they will explain what they are doing (usually with some pride in their tone) and offer suggestions of how to do it better or safer.

Follow through

If you have said that you will look into an issue or provide additional information, do it. If you do not, your credibility with the worker you were talking with and, likely, their supervisor and workmates, is gone. More…

Drug and alcohol testing does not improve workplace safety, so why have it? 3

cover of EN455_NCETA_2011-2 Testing for drug and alcohol effects in workplaces sounds sensible but what do you do when there is no evidence that it improves worker safety or reduces risk? Apparently ignore the evidence, create industrial tension and impose unnecessary costs on industry.

The Australian national government and the Victorian (State) government have both pledged to introduce drug and alcohol testing for the construction sector.  The Victorian Government also promised to introduce drug and alcohol testing for parliamentarians but everyone expects a backdown on that election pledge.

Recently two researchers in Adelaide, Ken Pidd and Anne Roche published a research paper in Accident Analysis & Prevention asking “how effective is drug testing as a workplace safety strategy?“.  The abstract states:

“…the evidence base for the effectiveness of testing in improving workplace safety is at best tenuous.”


Applying a “bullshit filter” during Mental Health Week 7

Cover of MCA_Mental_Health_Blueprint_FINALThis week in Australia is Mental Health Week.  Some call it an Mental Health Awareness Week.  Either way the Australian media will be full of experts and “experts”.  Workplace health strategies will not be excluded but when reading and listening to this media content, one important point should be remembered – “mental health” is significantly different from “mental illness”.

Such differentiation should not be dismissed as semantics because health, illness, problems and disorders involve different levels of analysis and diagnosis and, therefore, different strategies, interventions and control measures.

Recently the Minerals Council of Australia released its mental health blueprint in which the following important definitions were prominent. More…

Workplace resilience gets a kicking 1

The Age newspaper has published a feature article entitled “Workplace resilience: It’s all a great big con“. Although it does not mention occupational health and safety (OHS) specifically, it is applying the OHS principle of addressing the causes of workplace injury and ill-health.  It says that workplace resilience and similar training courses and strategies:

“… can’t overcome the structural realities and power imbalances that characterise the employment relationship. “Workplace resilience” might help us bear up to stress, but it won’t solve its underlying causes. And the causes of workplace unhappiness don’t necessarily reside in the individual and their own ability to “be resilient” or “relax” – they are part of the economic structures within which we work.”


Building a better future but maybe not a safer one Reply

Cover of ACTU Blueprint 2015The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has a strong commitment to safe and healthy workplaces in Australia and would likely assert that nothing is more important than the safety of workers. However the latest submission to government on economic and social reform, “Building a Better Future – a Strong Economy for All” (not yet available online), has missed the chance to bring occupational health and safety (OHS) into the current policy debate on economic and productivity reforms. More…

Beware the power of words Reply

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are being encouraged to think differently about safety and to focus on the positives instead of the failures, the leads instead of the lags. This needs to be supported by how we describe workplace incidents and in this context the profession can learn from one aspect of the debate on family violence in which Australia is currently engaged.

One example is available in this article from Women’s Agenda.  In it Editor Jane Gilmore writes about how the death of a women, murdered by a man, was described poorly by a newspaper.  The headline removes the perpetrator from the action. More…

Australia’s Safe Work Month launched 1

The CEO of Safe Work Australia, Michelle Baxter, has launched National Safe Work Month in a video address this morning. This speech is the first of many online Virtual Safety Seminars for 2015. The seminar program is much expanded since last year’s inaugural attempt and a recent discussion on this program’s development is available here. The videos will be good additions to the Australian body of knowledge on workplace safety.

This video illustrates some of the challenges in producing videos and webinars. The lack of commonly used acronyms for workplace safety  such as OHS or WHS can disturb the vocal flow by requiring formal and clear speech. The use of an autocue or teleprompter is also a skill that requires practice, as UK politician Jeremy Corbyn has recently acknowledged.


Muddled talk is not helping OHS Reply

A short discussion* in Tasmania’s Parliament on 16 September 2015 is illustrative of the use of language to answer a question, just not necessarily the question asked.  This type of political language has existed for centuries and will continue to do so but it contributes to people’s confusion about occupational health and safety (OHS) and the regulators’ role in enforcing OHS laws and should be called to account.

The question was asked by Independent Kerry Finch to Attorney-General Dr Vanessa Goodwin.

“Is the Government concerned about the rundown in staff for the WorkSafe program? Is the Government aware that there are only a reported 19 field inspectors, when it requires between 27 and 30 for the program to work efficiently? Does the Government plan to recruit more field inspectors for WorkSafe?”


Poorly planned safety risk registers can be painful 4

Due diligence on black blackboard with businessman

One of the most neglected occupational health and safety (OHS) management tools in Australian workplaces is the safety risk register even though they fit well with the renewed emphasis on OHS Due Diligence.

Every OHS professional dreads risk registers as these are often bureaucratic requirements that demand a risk workshop, that often fail to contribute to safety management or improvements and that senior executives sometimes rely on as being a definitive picture of risk. However this dread often originates from poor initial planning or looking for an easy “out”. More…

Front page drug testing article is marketing Reply

An article last week touched briefly on the issue of the effect of synthetic drugs in the workplace in the context of drug and alcohol testing.  The Australian newspaper on 28 September 2015 contained a front page article (paywalled) about mining company concerns over synthetic drugs at work, however it is an article that deserves greater analysis before anyone considers this as part of an evidence base as it is creatively constructed and relies on statements from a toxicologist working for drug testing laboratory. More…