Reviewing Today Tonight’s insulation exclusive 2

As an example of “tabloid TV” the Today Tonight (TT) report broadcast on 17 February 2010 concerning children assisting workers to install insulation, was very good.  It probably benefited from my own appearances remaining brief.

The topicality of a story on the home insulation industry could not have been higher yesterday as a Senate inquiry into the Australian Government’s environment and job creation scheme held hearings in Melbourne.  TT led its show with the scandalous report.

The video of a young boy handling large bags of insulation on a roof is disturbing; the unprotected handling of the insulation material by the young boy is similar.  That the children were allowed to be on the roof by the homeowner and parents is a parental supervision issue and outside the scope of this blog.  That the workers allowed them to be present and did not tell the children to get down is more disturbing and a clear breach of the workers’ OHS obligations. More…

Biomarkers for musculoskeletal disorders 1

Slips, trips and falls are often the neglected “bastard son” of occupational health and safety but the can cripple and can, literally cost an arm or a leg.

The traditional approach to control these hazards have been to make  the working environment safer by mopping up spilled liquids, for instance, or be using a piece of equipment such as a stepladder, or in the long-term or in the beginning of a project, to design out hazards.

We also know that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) make occur suddenly, and dramatically and painfully, but one’s body has accumulated weaknesses over time.  The UK’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has released a research report that indicates a new approach to MSDs or at least a start. More…

PPE can be a lazy OHS solution 2

One of the occupations with the clearest need for personal protective equipment (PPE) is that of a firefighter.  There are few other industries where PPE has such a high priority in workplace safety but sometimes PPE can still be forgotten.

A report on ABC radio and online  in Australia on 11 January 2010 shows that even in firefighting PPE may be forgotten.  The firefighter was the first one to take a fire hose to a shop fire and did not have on any breathing apparatus (BA).  His fully suited colleagues caught up with him and began fighting the fire.  It appears from this one media report that the firefighter kept his attention on fighting the fire rather than taking a break and putting on his BA.  Shortly after he began feeling unwell.

Research

On 4 January 2010 the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) released a firefighting information package, based on an early September 2009 workshop, that includes some interesting information about firefighter health and safety.   More…

Shoemaking in South East Asia – book review Reply

Some of the best OHS writing comes from the personal.  In a couple of days time a new book will go on sale that illustrates big issues from a niche context and brings to the research a degree of truth from the personal experiences of the author.

Pia Markkanen has written “Shoes, glues and homework – dangerous world in the global footwear industry” which packs in a range of issues into one book.  The best summary of the book comes from the Preface written by the series editors.

“Pia Markkanen’s extraordinary first hand investigation of the dangers of home work in the shoe industry in the Philippines and Indonesia is an important contribution to our understanding of work, health and the global economy. She also carefully documents the intersection of gender relations and hierarchy with the social relations of “globalised” economic development and reveal as the important implications for the health of women, men and children as toxic work enters the home.”

As one reads this book, local equivalents keep popping into the reader’s head.  For instance, Markkanen’s discussion of the home as workplace raises the definition of a “workplace” that is currently being worked through in Australia.  She briefly discusses the definition in her chapter “Informal Sector, Informal Economy” where she refers to an ILO Home Work Convention, and usefully distinguishes between the homeworker and the self-employed, a distinction that Australian OHS professionals and regulators should note.

Markkanen does not impose a Western perspective on her observations and acknowledges that regardless of the global economic issues and social paradigms, “shoemakers felt pride for their work”.  This pride goes some way to explaining why workers will tolerate hazards that others in other countries would not.  In many OHS books this element is often overlooked by OHS professionals and writers who are puzzled about workers tolerating exposure and who look to economic reasons predominantly.

In South East Asia, limited knowledge can be gleaned from literature reviews as the research data is sparse.  Markkanen interviewed participants first hand and, as mentioned earlier, this provides truth and reality.  She describes the shoe makers’ workshops in Indonesia:

“Shoe workshops are filled with hazardous exposures to glues, primers, and cleaning agents, unguarded tools, and dust.  Work positions are often awkward, cuts and burns are common, as are respiratory disorders.  Asthma and breathing difficulties are widespread when primers were in use.  Workers were reluctant to visit doctors because of the expense.”

She then reports on the interviews with Mr. Salet, a shoe manufacturer, Ms. Dessy, the business manager, Mr Iman, the business owner, Mr Ari, a skilled shoemaker, and many others.

Markkanen also illustrates the shame that the minority world and chemical manufacturers should feel about the outsourcing of lethal hazards to our fellows.  In the chapter, “Shoemaking and its hazards”, she writes:

“Shoe manufacturing will remain a hazardous occupation as long as organic solvents are applied in the production.  It is notable that in 1912, the Massachusetts Health Inspection report declared that naphtha cement, then in use for footwear manufacturing, was considered hazardous work.  The 1912 report also referred to a law which required the exclusion of minors from occupations hazardous to health – the naphtha cement use was considered such hazardous work unless a mechanical means of ventilation was provided and the cement containers were covered…. minors were prohibited from using the cement.  Almost a century later, hazardous footwear chemicals are still applied – even by children – in the global footwear industry.”

There is little attention given to the OHS requirements of majority world governments by OHS professionals in the West, partly because the outsourcing of manufacturing to those regions has led to the reporting of OHS infringements and human rights issues more than information about the legislative structures.

Markkanen provides a great section where she describes the OHS inspectorate resources of the Indonesian Government and the fact that Indonesian OHS law requires an occupational safety and health management system.  Granted this requirement is only for high-risk industries or business with more than 100 employees but there are many other countries that have nothing like this.  Markkanen quotes Article 87 of the Manpower Act 2003:

“Every enterprise is under an obligation to apply an occupational safety and health management system that shall be integrated into the enterprise’s management system.”

It is acknowledged that this section of legislation is hardly followed by business due to attitude and the lack of enforcement resources but we should note that safety management is not ignored by majority world governments.

Lastly, Markkanen provides a chapter on the gender issues associated with the shoemaking industry.  She makes a strong case for the further research into the area but it is a shame that to achieve improvements in women’s health the reality is  that

“women’s health needs female organizers and female women trade union leaders who understand women’s concerns”.

Some male OHS professionals may be trying to be “enlightened” but this seems to not be enough to work successfully in some Asian cultures.

Overall this book provides insight by looking at a small business activity that illustrates big issues.  The book is a slim volume of around 100 pages and it never becomes a difficult read because it is concise and has a personal presence that other “academic” books eschew.  As with many Baywood Books, the bibliographies are important sources of further reading.

At times it was necessary to put the book aside to digest the significance of some of the information.  Occasionally the reality depicted was confronting.  Baywood Books could do well by encouraging more writers to contribute to it Work, Health & Environment Series.

Kevin Jones

[SafetyAtWorkBlog received a review copy of this book at no charge.  We also noted that, according to the Baywood Books website, the book is available for another couple of weeks at a reduced price.]

When employees are their worst enemy. Reply

A recent article in a rehabilitation newsletter reminded me of a client from several years ago.

Several employees in a small item packaging line were reporting wrist and forearm soreness toward the end of their shift.  They believed that the line speed was too fast for them to comfortably work their full shift.

In consultation with the workers and the operations manager we went through various possible control options – line speed, automation, seating, posture, warm-up exercise, footwear, length of shift…..

A couple of days later, I was at the workplace at the end of the shift.  The employees said they were sore but they did not go home.  They stayed on for several hours of overtime.  When I asked them about this they said they always do the overtime.

So the assessment of working environment had incomplete data.

My advice was that if the employees were putting themselves at harm of the potential for harm, undertaking overtime while not fit-for-work contravenes their own OHS obligations.  If the employer offered these employees overtime knowing the employees were in pain, the employer is breaching the OHS obligation.

That is the straight OHS position.  But life is more complex than OHS.  The right OHS decision deprives the employees of additional income.  The right OHS decision could encourage employees to not report their pain or discomfort, for if they do, the offer of overtime would be withdrawn.  Non-reporting of injuries is a common short-term decision that many employees make.

It is in this context that consultation is required between employees, production manager, supervisor, human resources officer, and the health & safety rep, if one is on site.  This consultative group can then make a decision that everyone understands the justification for, even if some participants do not like it.

A question to ponder from the scenario above – if one of the workers developed pain during the normal work shift, undertook overtime without the employer being informed of the pain and put in a worker’s compensation claim for the pain, would the employer feel justified in contesting the claim?

Kevin Jones

When safety footwear is not enough Reply

Recently I purchased a pair of safety shoes.  My principal concern was comfort and with this in mind I purchased a pair of steel-toed Dunlop Volley tennis shoes.  These shoes have a cloth upper and a very successful non-slip tread.  Apparently, the Dunlop Volleys are the footwear of choice for roof-tilers but I don’t access roofs often. (I first saw plain Dunlop Volleys in prison workshops as the shoes were also the first choice for prisoners.)

The last worksite I wore my safety boots at was a milk factory in Victoria where the non-slip tread would have been very suitable but the canvas uppers, not.  The milk room, and elsewhere, was awash with water for swilling away spills. The Volley safety shoes would have been inappropriate at such a workplace but they have complied with the OHS policies in the workplace?

This question emphasises the need to establish broad OHS policies but to police specifically.  The safety of the wearer would be determined by the enforcement of a policy and not the policy itself. When preparing any safety document that stipulates specific requirements and preconditions, it is necessary to test the policies for suitability in your particular workplace.  What works in one workplace may be okay for yours but you need to establish its suitability and practicability by looking at how the policy will be enforced.