New analysis of deaths at work 2

Cover of Deaths at Work 2014Barry Naismith has followed up his first report into WorkSafe with a second that analyses the workplace deaths in Victoria since 1985.

One of the attractions of Naismith’s analyses is that he considers the broader context to the data.  His first report looked at WorkSafe Victoria’s actions and policies in relation to the executive and board complexion.  In this report he looks at the frequency of deaths with WorkSafe campaigns and enforcement response.

The analysis may not have the authority of a fully-funded research program from an academic institution but the level of detail he has collected from official sources is impressive, and in the absence of any other analysis, Naismith’s work deserves serious attention.

Kevin Jones

Master guide or handbook 3

In 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed the first edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide. CCH Wolters Kluwer has released its second edition and, sadly, it repeats many of the criticisms in the 2012 review.

The title of Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (2nd ed) seems inaccurate if one considers a book with “master ” in its title to be a “masterwork”. This is not a masterwork and the publishers have emphasised to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the book was never intended to be.  The book is intended to be a brief outline of the most important contemporary occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in Australia and to provide practical advice, checklists and templates.  In fact, the word that should be focussed on in the title is “guide”.

The publishers advised that “master” is in the title to indicate it is part of its “Master Series“, a “brilliant” series described as

“Australia’s premium range of professional books, widely accepted as the leaders in their fields.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog looked at a couple of chapters to assess the quality of the content.  As workplace bullying is such a contentious issue. the Bullying and Violence chapter was a focus. There were a surprising number of omissions in this chapter. More…

Productivity Commission looks at workplace bullying – not really 1

The Australian Government has announced an inquiry into workplace relations through the Productivity Commission (PC). The most obvious occupational health and safety (OHS) element of this inquiry relates to workplace bullying which is discussed in the fourth of five issues papers released in January 2015. However the purposeful separation of workplace bullying actions through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from actions in other sectors, such as OHS regulators, limits the potential impact of the inquiry on this issue.

The PC issues paper acknowledges the lack of the anticipated avalanche of anti-bullying applications and accepts that the structure of the FWC process may be partially responsible.  This lack of applications, an issue discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, deserves further research and analysis.  The FWC structure only allows applications from workers currently employed in the workplace about which they are complaining.  It can be argued that the inability of the FWC to award financial compensation is an equal deterrent.  If this is the case (and, as far as can be determined, this aspect has not been investigated) the motivation of anti-bullying applicants to FWC and OHS regulators may involve natural justice AND compensation. The role of money in bullying complaints and applications has been a taboo subject in the past but deserves some analysis, even though it may be very uncomfortable. More…

Research project opportunity 2

SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the following research project may be of interest to readers.

Underhill graphicA research team from the Faculty of Business & Law at Deakin University, led by Drs. Elsa Underhill & Melissa Parris, are conducting a research project to:

  • Develop a better understanding of how health, safety and well-being outcomes differ between types of workers (ie. permanents, casuals & labour hire) within the same workplace; and
  • Develop an understanding of how employment status impacts on work/life balance.

Their findings are intended to better inform HRM and WHS practitioners on the development of evidence based strategies and policies to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.

 They are seeking organisations which will allow them to survey their employees including, where appropriate, labour hire workers placed with organisation.  Responses will be anonymous and respondents will have the chance to win 1 of 10 mini Ipads. Participating organisations will receive a report specific to their organisation, as well as the full project report.

 Is your organisation interested in participating?  If so, please contact Elsa.Underhill@deakin.edu.au for further information.

Sniping in social media raises issues about hydration 9

A spat has recently emerged on one of the safety discussion forums in Linkedin.  The catalyst was a statement that

The source of this data, not disclosed at the time of the original post, was a company that sells

“…a great tasting, scientifically proven mix of cutting-edge branch chain amino acids and low Gi carbohydrates for sustained energy release, combined with a formulated blend of electrolytes for optimum hydration in harsh Australian conditions”.

The discussion quickly refocused from the original safety concern to one of unreliability of statements; sadly the discussion also became personal and abusive. but the discussion raised two discussion points:

  • The reliability of statements on the internet, and
  • the issue of hydration and work performance.

More…

What if “reasonably practicable” was applied to a disease outbreak? 4

There seems to be an increasing trend for the principles of occupational health and safety (OHS) to be applied to matters outside the workplace.  OHS principles were created to reflect the values of society in the 1970s and 80s and, although the laws have changed to reflect economic needs, the principles remain basically the same.  A major legal change has been the move away from preventing harm “at the source” to one of reasonable practicability and this can reduce the overall level of safety available to workers and others.

It is interesting to note that statements on the current Ebola outbreak argue the sense in dealing with the outbreak “at the source”.  Why do we accept a reasonably practicable control measure for harm at work but expect a stronger preventative measure for public health threats?  Shouldn’t we be aiming to reduce all harm “at the source” regardless of the type of harm? More…

Whitlam’s dismissal diverted workers compensation reform 6

In October 2014, one of Australia’s Prime Ministers, Gough Whitlam, died at the age of 98.  Whitlam introduced major social reforms, many which still exist today (just).  One reform he valued but was not able to achieve was a national accident compensation scheme. It is worth noting when reading of the current economic and moral arguments over workplace responsibility and over-regulation that Whitlam’s national accident compensation scheme included workers compensation.

In 1974, during Whitlam’s time as the Prime Minister of Australia, the New Zealand government established a no-fault accident compensation scheme following the 1967 Royal Commission of Inquiry into Compensation for Personal Injury in New Zealand chaired by Owen Woodhouse.  Woodhouse was invited to assess the likelihood of a similar scheme being introduced in Australia.  He completed his inquiry (not available online) for such a scheme and legislation was drafted. The bill was in the Australian Parliament when the Whitlam government was dismissed by Governor-General John Kerr.  As a result of the political machinations of the Liberal Party of Australia, Australia missed the opportunity to have a national accident compensation scheme. More…

Finally some valuable and practical details on occupational health and safety programs 2

Earlier this month SafetyAtWorkBlog was critical of a (still yet to be released) guidebook on “Integrated approaches to worker health, safety and well-being”.  Specifically the case study information in the guidebook needed more depth and it was suggested that

“ This weakness could be compensated for through a strong campaign where the companies in the case studies speak about their experiences first-hand.”

The Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) has redeemed itself slightly with a presentation by one of the case studies’ safety managers during the authority’s annual OHS week.  Murray Keen of ConnectEast provided a detailed list of the combination of safety and health programs the company has applied over the last few years.  Keen claims that these programs have contributed to the company having

  • no workers compensation claims since december 2009;
  • a much lower than average attrition rate in its call centre;
  • annual absenteeism of 4.6 days per person compared to a national average of between 8.75 and 9.2 days; and
  • only 4 first aid incidents for the 2013-14 financial year – no Lost Time Injury or Medical Treatment Injury.

Keen also told the audience that the company has granted him a year-on-year increase to his safety budget and when asked about the cost of the programs introduced he said that one workers compensation claim almost covered the cost of the safety program.

This level of detail is what the guidebook was lacking as it provided the information that many safety managers would need to make a case to their executives for support and resources. More…

When developing a mental health/wellbeing plan, suicide should not be forgotten 1

Cover of MIC-Report-October-2014In developing harm reduction and prevention strategies, the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession likes to look at worst case scenarios on the understanding that dealing with an extreme event introduces mechanisms that deal with lesser events.  Partly this is a legacy of Bird’s Pyramid.  During this current month of attention on workplace mental health, the issue of work-related suicide is unavoidable as a worst case scenario for depression and mental ill-health.  There are several new pieces of data on work-related suicides that OHS professionals need to consider as part of their own professional development and to increase their organisational and operational relevance.

Mates In Construction

In October 2014, the Mates In Construction (MIC) program released a report on “The economic cost of suicide and suicide behaviour in the NSW construction industry and the impact of MATES in Construction suicide“. Below is a summary of some of its findings, in Australian Dollars:

“The average age of each suicide fatality among construction industry workers was 36.8 years and 37.7 years in QLD [Queensland] and NSW [New South Wales], respectively.”

“The average cost of a self-harm attempt resulting in a short-term absence from work is estimated at $925 in 2010 dollars.”

“Each self-harm attempt resulting in full incapacity is estimated at $2.78 million; and, each suicide attempt resulting in a fatality is estimated at $2.14 million”

“The key cost driver for full incapacity and a fatality is lost income, equivalent to 27.3 years productive years”

“Across all categories, the burden of cost associated with self-harm and suicide is borne largely by the government: 97% or $4.80 million of the total combined cost of $4.92 million.” (all in page 3)

More…

What is workplace “mental wellbeing”? 1

The 2014 Annual Report of the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) states a new initiative on workplace mental health:

“…a new direction for the VWA’s WorkHealth program has led to the Victorian Mental Wellbeing Collaboration. The VWA has invested in a tripartite collaboration with peak health promotion agencies VicHealth and SuperFriend to develop a range of evidence based tools and resources that will be tested and refined through industry leaders and made broadly available to Victorian workplaces.” (page 25, links added)

Two significant points in this statement are the development of a range of “evidence-based tools and resources” and the pledge to consult.  However what is meant by a tripartite consultation in this context is unclear as traditionally OHS consultation has included employer associations, trade unions and government regulators.  If health promotion agencies are included in this latest “tripartite collaboration”.  Will the employer groups or trade unions be dropped?  Consultation on any new OHS/wellbeing initiative should not be constrained in a tripartite combination.

One of the traps in this initiative is the potential confusion by terminologies.  “Mental health” is a well-understood term that is readily applied to the workplace by organisations such as the Western Australian Mental Health Commission who quotes the World Health Organisation

“…. good mental health is not simply the absence of a mental disorder. It is a state of wellbeing whereby an individual can realise their own potential, manage everyday stresses, work productively and contribute to their community.” (page 6)

More…