SafetyAtWorkBlog gets praise for independence Reply

Today, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) released a four-page document criticising the campaigning techniques and statistical foundation of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).  Nothing unique in that ideological battle, however, what grabbed our attention was that SafetyAtWorkBlog is mentioned specifically.

ACCIBriefing_8Sep2009 coverI contacted the ACCI this morning and thanked them for reading the blog and for describing SafetyAtWorkBlog as a “respected website”.  We’ll accept praise from anyone as our major indicator of success mainly comes from the steady increase in our readership statistics.

The ACCI makes considerable mileage out of a SafetyAtWorkBlog article that discusses the survey results that the ACTU released in support of some of its campaigning for further changes in the national OHS laws that are currently being drafted.

Several comments are useful in relation to the ACCI paper

SafetyAtWorkBlog obtained the survey results by requesting them through the ACTU and being provided them by Essential Media.  We have a policy on any media releases that quote statistics.  If the statistics are not readily available, or at least the relevant OHS parts of survey results, we do not usually report on the issues raised or we make a point of stating that the statistical assertions are not able to be verified.

The ACCI paper echoes many of the points raised in the blog article.  Our main point was to question the wisdom of using statistics as support for a campaign when the statistics do not, necessarily, support the  campaign objectives, or, in the least, may provide alternative interpretations.

The Essential Media report provided to SafetyAtWorkBlog could have been more detailed and the ACCI certainly wants more than we have seen.  Releasing such a paper criticising the ACTU for not sharing research data puts the ACCI in a position now where it cannot deny the public release of its research data, at least, on matters relevant to OHS.  The questions from ACCI have set a precedent for openness and information sharing.

Whether marching in the streets in support of an OHS campaign is effective, or warranted, or not is almost a moot point.  Many of the televisions stations covered the union marches in Australia earlier this week.  The 7.30 Report felt there was enough of a profile raised by the union campaign that it followed up many of the concerns raised with a long article in its show on 8 September 2009.  The media exposure has been able to further raise the profile of OHS as a contentious issue that is being acted upon by government.  It should raise the “seven out of ten” OHS awareness factor, quoted by the ACCI, a few points at least.

Given the criticism of the ACTU, one could genuinely ask, how the ACCI is increasing awareness of OHS matters in the community as well as its membership?  It is not expected out in the streets but the occasional media release or four-page rebuttal does not have the same affect as a march of hundreds of people on the television.

In all of this to-ing and fro-ing, SafetyAtWorkBlog takes pride in its independence and as a forum for expressing views on a social and industrial issue that has only ever before been discussed by political ideologues from fixed perspectives.

Perhaps safety professionals could apply the wisdom of Oscar Wilde to safety

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

It seems to me that OHS has not been talked about for far too long.

Kevin Jones

NZ proposes new exposure levels on formaldehyde Reply

The New Zealand of Department of Labour is continuing its negotiations on new exposure levels for formaldehyde.

The latest proposed exposure levels for formaldehyde are 0.3 ppm (8 hour TWA) and 0.6 ppm (STEL).  Currently the levels in New Zealand are 1ppm (ceiling).

According to US OSHA, it’s exposure standard is

1910.1048(c)(1)

TWA: The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) as an 8-hour TWA.

1910.1048(c)(2)

Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL): The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds two parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (2 ppm) as a 15-minute STEL.

WorkSafe BC says

BC‘s current 8-hour TWA of 0.3 ppm is well below levels capable of causing adverse health effects and protects the worker from the pungent, unpleasant odour of formaldehyde.

NZ DoL is also discussing dropping there exposure levels for soft wood dust from 5mg/m3 to 1mg/m3.

The cancer risks of formaldehyde have been investigated over some time and the weight of evidence shows that this chemical is a probable human carcinogen.

Kevin Jones

Meditation is a proven stress reduction method for workplaces 3

Meditation is not on the regular agenda at SafetyAtWorkBlog.  If there was time to meditate, the time would probably be spent losing weight in the gym but there is fascinating research that provides some evidence of meditation’s benefit  in reducing work-related stress.

At the Safety Conference in Sydney at the end of  October 2009, Dr Ramesh Manocha of Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women will release research that

“found that after eight weeks of mental silence meditation training called sahaja yoga, occupational stress scores improved [decreased?] 26 per cent.  A non-mental silence relaxation program reaped a 13 per cent gain, while a waiting list control group lifted just 1 per cent.”

The language sounds slightly “new-age” but what makes the difference in this circumstance is that the initial research was undertaken with three groups mentioned above and, importantly, with a control group.

Below is a TV interview with Dr Manocha on the first stage of research.

When looking at workplace stress, people reduce stressors but Dr Manocha says this often requires impossible organisation restructuring due to internal political pressures.  These techniques can be applied on a personal level that employees can take with them through their various life-stages.

Dr Manocha then applied the meditation training in real corporate situations.  According to a media release provided in the lead-up to the conference:

“In a later field trial of mental silence meditation by 520 doctors and lawyers, more than half of the participants whose psychological state (K10) scores indicated they were “at risk” were reclassified as “low risk” after two weeks of meditation.”

It’s the application of this meditation in the workplace context that gained the attention of  SafetyAtWorkBlog and what will be presented at the conference.  The gentle skepticism evident in the TV interview above is understandable but in a time when safety professionals demand evidence, we must look seriously at evidence when it is presented.

More information on The Safety Conference is available HERE.

Kevin Jones

Australian Statistics – Part 4 – Shiftwork 3

Safe Work Australia has released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia.  These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from ShiftworkThe last of the four statistical reports looks at shiftwork.

The impact of shiftwork on work-related injuries in Australia

The main findings of this report are summarised below:

  • In 2005–06, 16% of Australian workers worked under shift arrangements yet they had 27% of the work-related injuries.
  • Shiftworkers had higher rates of work-related injury than non-shiftworkers.
    • Incidence rates
      • Shiftworkers: 114 injuries per 1000 shiftworkers
      • Non-shiftworkers: 60 injuries per 1000 non-shiftworkers
    • Frequency rates
      • Shiftworkers: 69 injuries per million hours worked
      • Non-shiftworkers: 35 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers had higher frequency rates of work-related injury than male shiftworkers. This finding is counter to the rates of work-related injury in male and female non-shiftworkers.
    • Shiftworkers
      • Female: 81 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 62 injuries per million hours worked
    • Non-shiftworkers
      • Female: 31 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 37 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers were particularly at risk of work-related injuries in Clerical, sales and service occupations, while male shiftworkers were particularly at risk in Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • Both shiftworkers and non-shiftworkers were more likely to incur work-related injuries during their first six months of employment than after their first six months of employment. Furthermore, a greater proportion of injuries that occurred to shiftworkers occurred in the first 6 months of employment than occurred to non-shiftworkers in the same initial period of employment.
  • The frequency rate of work-related injuries that occurred to shiftworkers is negatively related to normal working hours: Shiftworkers that worked only a few shifts per week had considerably higher frequency rates of work-related injury compared to shiftworkers (and non-shiftworkers) whose normal working hours were between 35 and 40 hours per week.
  • Shiftworkers who worked less than 30 hours per week were typically young (less than 25 years old) and large proportions worked in Elementary clerical, sales and service worker, Intermediate clerical, sales and service and Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • High incidence rates of injury were not due to lack of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) training. More shiftworkers received OHS training than not, and a greater proportion of shiftworkers received OHS training than non-shiftworkers.

Australian Statistics – Part 3 – Injury data comparison 2

Safe Work Australia was released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia. These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from ComparisonwithNDSThis report is a comparison of two data sets in the hope that the report provides a more accurate picture of workplace injury rates than just that based on workers’ compensation claims.

NDS =National Data Set for Compensation based Statistics

WRIS = Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Work-Related Injuries

A detailed explanation of the sources and purposes of these data sets is in the full report.

Comparison of compensation data with all incurred work-related injuries

Comparison of the WRIS with published data on serious claims from the NDS indicates that the NDS represents only one in five work-related injuries occurring each year. In addition, this analysis has shown that the NDS collected information on only 63% of the injuries that involved a week or more off work in 2005–06. The analysis in this report, however, shows that the NDS still provides useful information on the characteristics of work-related injuries

To enable a more robust comparison, the two datasets were scoped to only include injuries with similar periods of time lost (one working week for the NDS and five or more days for the WRIS). The following points were observed

  • The NDS incidence rate for male employees was 80% of the WRIS rate but for female employees the NDS incidence rate was only 60% of the WRIS rate. This indicates that in 2005–06 female workers were less likely to claim workers’ compensation than male workers
  • While the two datasets produced similar incidence rates for age groups involving workers over 25 years of age, the NDS recorded only half the incidence rate of the WRIS for workers aged less than 25 years. This indicates that in 2005–06 young people were less likely to claim workers’ compensation than older workers
  • Both datasets indicated that the highest incidence rates in 2005–06 were recorded by the Agriculture, forestry and fishing, Manufacturing, Construction, Transport and storage and Mining industries. However, comparison of the two datasets indicates that the NDS underestimated incidence rates in the Retail trade, Health and community services, Education and Government administration and defence industries

These industries had high proportions of employees who were eligible for workers’ compensation and hence the data indicates that employees in these industries were less likely to claim workers’ compensation than those in other industries

  • Both datasets indicated the highest incidence rates by occupation groups were recorded by Labourers and related workers, Intermediate production and transport workers and Tradespersons and related workers. However, the data show that the NDS underestimates incidence rates for Managers and administrators
  • The way in which injuries occurred was similar between the two datasets, with 42% of injuries due to lifting, pushing and pulling objects
  • The two datasets agreed that the main type of injury was Sprains and strains. However, the analysis showed that the NDS only captured one in three injuries involving Stress or other mental condition and one in two injuries involving Fractures, Cut/open wound or Chronic joint or muscle condition

Australian Statistics – Part 2 – Workers’ Compensation 1

Safe Work Australia was released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia. These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Factors affecting applications for workers’ compensation

Pages from WCapplicationsThis report has identified several factors that affected the likelihood of employees making workers’ compensation claims and the reasons for not applying for workers’ compensation following a work-related injury. These include:

Sex

Female employees were less likely to apply for workers’ compensation for their work-related injury than male employees.

Of injuries that involved some time lost from work, 52% of female employees did not apply for compensation compared to 46% of male employees.

Reasons for not applying

Male and female employees did not apply for compensation for nearly four tenths of their injuries that involved some time lost from work because they considered the injury too minor to claim. For a further one-tenth of these injuries, male and female employees felt it was inconvenient or too much effort to apply.

Male employees did not apply for compensation for over two in ten injuries because they did not know they were eligible for compensation.

For female employees, nearly two in ten did not apply due to concerns about their current or future employment.

Age

Young female employees were least likely to claim workers’ compensation while males aged 45–54 years were most likely to claim compensation for injuries that involved some time lost from work.

Type of injury

The type of injury had little impact on whether an injured employee applied for workers’ compensation except in cases that involved stress or other mental conditions. While around half of all injuries that involved some time lost from work were claimed, injuries that involved stress were only claimed in 36% of cases.

Duration of employment

There was little difference in the percentage of employees who claimed workers’ compensation based on employment duration: employees with less than one year of employment claimed workers’ compensation for 52% of their time lost injuries compared to 47% of time lost injuries for those with more than one year of employment.

Alternative sources of financial assistance

Regular sick leave was used by nearly two in ten injured employees who did not apply for workers’ compensation

One in ten accessed government payments such as Medicare and Centrelink payments.

Full-time / part-time employment

Of the injuries incurred by full-time employees that involved some time lost from work, 47% applied for workers’ compensation compared to 53% of part time employees.

Unlike full-time employees, one of the main reasons why part-time employees did not apply for compensation was due to concern about current or future employment.

Leave entitlements

Of the injuries to employees with paid leave entitlements that involved some time lost from work, 56% applied for workers’ compensation compared to just 43% of employees without paid leave entitlements.

Injured employees without paid leave entitlements were three times as likely to think they were not eligible for workers’ compensation as employees with paid leave entitlements.

Australian Statistics – Part 1 – Employment Conditions Reply

Safe Work Australia was released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia.  These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from EmploymentconditionsSafetyAtWorkBlog is going to present some of the data in four blog articles, without commentary or interpretation, which is the usual approach.  Each article will be the summary of findings from each report.  Readers are strongly encouraged to download and read the full reports (links to each will be included in each article) as the summaries do not fully reflect the complexity of the analysis.

We want to thank the Safe Work Australia for their decision to provide such data.  It is an optimistic sign of improved communication for the national organisation.

The impact of employment conditions on work-related injuries in Australia

Employment status

  • Employees accounted for 88% of the total workforce in 2005-06.  Employees recorded a higher incidence rate of work-related injury compared to Employers or Own account workers (E/OAWs): 71 injuries per 1000 employees compared to 52 injuries per 1000 E/OAWs.
  • Employees recorded higher incidence rates in all industries except the Construction industry where similar rates were recorded for the two employment types.
  • Employees recorded higher incidence rates in all occupations except for Managers and administrators where E/OAWs recorded 76 injuries per 1000 workers compared to 53 for Employees.
  • Male employees recorded an incidence rate 1.4 times the rate for female employees whereas male E/OAWs recorded an incidence rate twice the rate of female E/OAWs.
  • E/OAWs recorded 19 injuries per 1000 E/OAWs for injuries involving five days or more compared to 21 for Employees.

Leave entitlements

  • Employees with leave entitlements recorded higher incidence rates of injury (76 injuries per 1000 workers) than employees without leave entitlements (66 injuries per million hours worked).
  • When hours of work were examined, it was found that full-time workers experienced the same frequency rate of injury regardless of whether they had access to paid leave or not. The same pattern was observed for part-time workers, though frequency rates for part-time workers were double those of full-time workers.
  • Male employees without leave entitlements recorded the highest frequency rates of work-related injury, substantially above male employees with leave entitlements and higher than female employees without leave entitlements.
  • Male and female frequency rates for employees with leave entitlements were similar.
  • Employees with leave entitlements recorded higher incidence rates than Employees without leave entitlements in all occupations. However, by industry employees without leave entitlements recorded higher rates in the agriculture, forestry and fishing and property and business service industries.

Full-time / Part-time

  • Part-time workers recorded a frequency rate of work-related injury more than twice the rate for full-time workers: 74 injuries per million hours worked compared to 35 for full-time workers.
  • Male part-time workers had higher rates of injury than female part-time workers.
  • Young part-time workers, who were less than 25 years old, had a higher rate of injury than older part-time workers.

US workplace fatality statistics – 2008 Reply

Preliminary data on workplace fatalities was released recently by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program in the United States.  Economic pressures have reduced the size of the workforce which, the data indicates, decreased fatalities.  Good news in one way but only status quo if one is looking at long-term trends or for some benefit from government workplace safety initiatives.

Benchmarking and statistics junkies will be able to extract a great deal of information from the preliminary data.  The chart below is a good example of the level of detail available.

cfch0007 chart

There was a passing mention in the media release which caught our attention – workplace suicides.  The media release states:

“Workplace suicides were up 28 percent to a series high of 251 cases in 2008, but workplace homicides declined 18 percent in 2008……

Workplace suicides rose from 196 cases in 2007 to 251 cases in 2008, an increase of 28 percent and the highest number ever reported by the fatality census. Suicides among protective service occupations rose from 14 in 2007 to 25 in 2008.”

Regular SafetyAtWorkBlog readers will understand that work-related suicides is an area that we consider under-researched, so the figures quoted are of particular interest although only a minor part of the statistical report.  It would be great if the Bureau of Labor Statistics revisited its 2004 analysis of workpalce suicides in light of this considerable statistical increase.

Kevin Jones

Why OHS performance targets don’t equal safe workplaces Reply

On 19 August 2009, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) published an article (not available online) about the lack of success of OHS regulators meeting their agreed performance target.  The article is based on the information provided by Safe Work Australia in its 2006-07 progress report.

Below is a chart that WorkSafe’s John Merritt showed at a recent OHS seminar which clearly shows how far the State of Victoria has to go to reach the 2012 target, and it is one of the better performing States.

vic_ohs_johnmerritt_leadership_080804 graph

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has placed its hope for improvement in the upcoming harmonised OHS laws.  Jeff Lawrence is quoted in the small AFR article from the ACTU media release:

“Australia has a long way to go before success can be claimed on achieving national targets for workplace death, injury and disease,” Mr Lawrence said.  “With proposed uniform national occupational health and safety laws, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lift protections for workers by achieving the world’s best safety standards for the entire country.”

Jeff Lawrence and the ACTU need to remember that harmonised OHS model laws have never been about improving workplace safety.  They are about setting the legal framework within which employers and employees improve safety in their workplaces.  Safety improvement comes from the management of risk and hazards, not whether it is easier for a union to get onsite or for a company to be more easily prosecuted or for fines to be set at record amounts.

(In fact until recently, Australian lawyers and some OHS lawyers acknowledge that fines do not work for anything other than punishment.  Other legal penalty options have been promoted for some time but these seem to have been ejected from the proposed National OHS law.)

The ACTU, and the employer groups, need to start assisting companies to reduce hazards,  not only the sites or industry sectors of their own members.  Unions are often keen on pushing corporate social responsibility but do not promote safety outside their member organisations.  So where is their own corporate social responsibility?

The principal motivator of the union movement in Australia has always been industrial relations, of which OHS is of occasional relevance.  Though it is acknowledged that in some specific union sectors, particularly the emergency services and construction, safety has a higher priority than elsewhere.

If the union movement was genuine about improving the lot of Australian workers and of the importance of safety, assisting in the education of business operators, outside their own union sector, to improve safety may show to some workers that being a member of a union may be a good thing.

As has been discussed elsewhere the OHS performance targets of the regulators are purely academic.  Former Prime Minister John Howard introduced the concept of “aspirational targets” to the Australian political lingo and the current OHS targets were set during his government.  Aspirational targets are those that you sort-of try to reach but if you don’t, it doesn’t matter, as there is no penalty.

If the regulators were genuine about reaching this target, the enforcement of OHS would be substantially different and harsher.  The technical assistance for business to improve safety would not rely on the regulators alone or some token business consulting funding.  But the targets have no big “stick”,  the legislation is in a state of uncertainty, the unions have limited influence, and the community’s awareness of workplace safety is up but still only a trickle on their decision-making radar.

The targets also have no “carrot” other than a media opportunity to say that one State OHS regulator performed better than another, and that will surely create harmony.

No enforcement + no penalty = no effort.

Kevin Jones

Who is all this OHS harmonisation for? 2

The public comment phase of Australia’s review of its OHS law harmonisation process begins in September 2009.   To a large degree it is at this stage that the stakeholders can start refining their horse-trading.  It will also be interesting to watch as the distraction of the new industrial relations legislation has gone since that law was introduced.

Safe Work Australia is using the traditional limited consultative troika – government, employers and unions, and will need to give public submissions considerable weight to balance interests.

Two of the employer groups have already started setting out some guidelines and expectations.

SafeWork    -0X1.DB7490P+747ustraliaMR_Aug_2009A statement from the CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), Mitchell Hooke, was released on 14 August 2009.  The only new element of the media release was

“The MCA has called for the National Mine Safety Framework to form the basis of national minerals-industry specific regulation within the Model OH&S Act.”

One of the aims of the harmonisation movement is to minimise regulations for specific industry sectors.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry was more expansive in its statement of 5 August 2009.  The ACCI overstates the cost burden of OHS legislation in each State.  The Model OHS Law Review Panel found overwhelming similarities between the legislations but acknowledged that the variations would be difficult to resolve.

ACCIHarmonisation-ACCIPerspective CoverThe following quote from the ACCI statement illustrates the value of the ACCI perspective and also its major shortcoming.

“However, harmonisation of legislation is not of itself the solution to the compliance burden problem, but rather it will be the final content and quality of the model legislation and the approach to its implementation and enforcement that will be the critical determinants as to whether or not productivity gains are in fact realised in practice.”

It is accurate to say that the success of the legislation will be gauged by its implementation and enforcement.  However, the conservative  ideology of the ACCI is on show when it states that the harmonisation is intended to provide productivity gains.  OHS legislation’s first aim should always be to improve the safety and health of the workforce which, in turn, increases productivity.

ACCI and other employer associations too often jump the safety element and go straight to productivity yet it is the safety of employees that is by far the greatest value that employers share with the community and the unions.  Elsewhere in the ACCI statement, the importance of safety is acknowledged but the communication of priorities is muddled.

The ACCI also says “OHS laws should never be used as a vehicle to drive other agendas,” and then goes on to push issues of industrial relations and union behaviour that are not the core focus of the OHS model legislation process.

The ACCI statement closes on a more philosophical approach to OHS.  It talks about “cooperative development”, “safety culture” and  “continued engagements” but its own cooperation can be seen as conditional in the majority of the statement.

There is one statement that all involved in OHS law reform should consider. The ACCI states that practical and easily understood regulation is required.

“This is particularly important for the majority of employers who operate only in one jurisdiction and who will not receive a direct productivity benefit under harmonisation but who will bear the cost of understanding and complying with a new OHS Act and regulations.”

Not much will change for those companies who operate in a single State of Australia.  It is also useful to note that the vast majority of businesses in Australia are small- and micro-businesses  for whom all of this national hoo-ha is almost totally irrelevant.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said in a webpage that was updated in September 2008 that

“Small businesses comprise the vast majority of Australian businesses. The importance of the small business sector to the Australian economy is recognised by researchers, government and policy makers as well as the business community as a whole. It is acknowledged that the characteristics and business drivers of small business are potentially very different to those of larger businesses and as such require specific, targeted policy initiatives. Central to the development of effective policy initiatives is a sound understanding of the nature and characteristics of this sector of the business economy.”

The employer associations do not represent the largest employment sectors in Australia – small businesses, micro-businesses and home-based businesses.  Nor do the trade unions.  So who exactly are the biggest beneficiaries of this whole OHS harmonisation process?

Kevin Jones