Firefighter trauma 5

A major element of risk management  is business continuity.  This requires considerable planning, disaster recovery resources, and a long-term focus.

In early 2009 parts of Victoria, some not far from the offices of SafetyAtWorkBlog, were incinerated and across the State over 170 people died. In a conservative western culture like Australia, the bush-fires were the biggest natural disaster in living memory.

The is a Royal Commission into the Victorian Bushfires that is illustrating many of the disaster planning and community continuity needs in risk management.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “7.30 Report” provided a report on 5 August 2009 which originates from the views of the community and the volunteer firefighters.  One of the issues relevant to safety professionals and risk managers is the psychological impact on volunteer workers.  Many in the report talk of trauma.  Many in the disaster areas have not returned and their are many who remain psychologically harmed.

When a workforce is so closely integrated with a community, rehabilitation is a daunting task and changes a community forever.

Overseas readers may have experienced their own natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina, earthquakes, floods and wildfires.  Many of these stories are reported around the world.  In the recovery phase of any disaster, businesses need to rebuild but are often rebuilding with damaged people.  It would be heartening to see the OHS regulators and OHS professions becoming more involved over the long recovery period.

Kevin Jones

Australia’s “Find a Psychologist” directory Reply

Several OHS regulators in Australia, OHS professional associations and trade union have directories for OHS advisers.  Most of them are in the traditional OHS areas of guarding, engineering, chemical safety…..  Psychosocial issues such as work stress or workplace bullying haven’t featured as much.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has a very good searchable directory for its members.  The search results provide a brief table of those psychologists for the subject area in your region with a good amount of information on individual listings on the click-through.

A great feature is to locate someone within a radius of one’s town or suburb.  The Society has thought about the geography  if Australia by including a 200 kilometre radius option.

On a brief search for psychologists who specialise in work stress or workplace bullying, the large Australian capital cities had plenty of listings.  Darwin came up empty as did Cairns, Alice Springs and Broom but these are remote locations and there may be psychologists in those areas who could provide assistance on workplace psychosocial issues, just not as specialists.

The “Find a Psychologist” directory is very easy to use and could be used by other member organisations as a template for their own databases.  The APS website should be flagged by Australian OHS professionals who need he services of psychologists for workplace psychosocial assistance.

Kevin Jones

New Work/Life Research Reply

There seems to be new institutes and academic schools popping up regularly over research into the issue of work/life balance.  Recently one of the oldest and most prominent of the institutes, the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia, released new research data.AWALI--full cover

The latest Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) was released in late July 2009.  The executive summary identifies several important issues relevant to OHS:

“Three years of data about work-life interference in Australia tell us that many employees experience frequent interference from work in their personal, home and community lives, many feel overloaded at work and feelings of time pressure are also common and growing.”

“Work hours are central to work-life interference….. Many Australians are a long way from their preferred working hours and the 2008/09 economic downturn has not made any difference to the incidence of this mismatch.”

The work by Barbara Pocock and others at the Centre is characterised by recommendations for improvements rather than simply describing a situation.  In this data the researchers say

“Our AWALI reports over the past three years suggest that employers and public policy makers can help workers deal with work-life pressures.  This involves improving the quality of supervision and workplace culture, controlling workloads, designing ‘do-able’ jobs, reducing long working hours and work-related commuting, increasing employee-centered flexibility and options for permanent part-time work, improving the fit between actual and preferred hours and increasing care supports.”

It is obvious from these comments that OHS professionals need to work hard on these matters to create, or maintain, their workplace safety cultures.

Kevin Jones

Absence management data misses the OHS mark Reply

Managing workplace absenteeism often ignores the OHS issues that are integral to the issue.

4926AbsenceSRWEB2 coverOn 20 July 2009 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development released its findings on the issue in its annual Absence Management Survey.

The media statement identifies the reasons for short- and long-term absences.

  • “The main causes of short-term absence are minor illnesses such as colds and flu, stress and musculoskeletal conditions
  • The main causes of long-term absence are acute medical conditions, stress and mental health conditions and musculoskeletal conditions and back pain.”

However, the media statement identifies no measures to counter these workplace hazards, preferring to focus on ancillary factors such as job security.

Willmott focuses on a comparison between absenteeism in the public and private sectors.  The difference is statistically interesting, perhaps, but does not address the causes of absenteeism.

Willmot also illustrates the dominant HR position on absenteeism.

“Effective absence management involves finding a balance between providing support to help employees with health problems stay in and return to work and taking consistent and firm action against employees that try and take advantage of organisations’ occupational sick pay schemes.”

This manages the effect of the problem but not the problem itself which CIPD’s own research has identified as musculoskeletal conditions, stress, mental health and, to a lesser extent, colds and flu.

The comments by the Senior Public Policy Adviser for the CIPD, BenWillmott, are a good example of how some human resources or management organisations miss the health and safety element.

The CIPD does acknowledge the importance of workplace health and safety as illustrated by its reply to the Health & Safety Executive’s draft strategy.  It also says in the Absence Management Survey that, in the return-to-work context:

“The involvement of occupational health professionals is identified as the most effective approach for managing long-term absence…”

However even though it sees itself as the “professional and accreditation body for the UK HR profession [which represents] over 130,000 HR professionals at every level of business and in every sector”, it hesitates to take a leadership role in health and safety.  It’s a pity because applying the apparent professionalism of the Institute and its membership strength to OHS could achieve great social and business efficiencies.

For those wanting to look at comparison data, CIPD makes available its previous surveys for download.

Kevin Jones

Maintain instead of repair Reply

Every country has its share of high-fliers who “burn out”.  Many fade away from the public eye with their careers over.  Frequently this path to wealth and prominence is not perceived as a workplace health or safety matter.  Some people decide that the health trade-off of multi-million dollar salaries is worth it.

Sadly the psychological reality of this personal decision is often masked by clichés.  Frequently, executives say that a major motivation for their decision is “to spend more time with my family”.  Many executives may believe this to be a major part of their decision, but regrettably, this worthy sentiment has become a cliché – the equivalent of a beauty pageant winner working toward “world peace”.

The family-time phrase/reason/excuse signifies an important element of the executive’s personality.  They were willing to sacrifice decades of their relationship with their partner and to be absent from the development of their children for money.

If any of these departing executives use the family-time phrase in the same departure speech or media exit-interview  as regaining “control of their lives” to “re-engage with the most important people in my life”, ask the executives, or politicians, “how do you justify ignoring your family over your career?”.

In some cases one could be more specific.  “Do you think that your multi-million career was related to your daughter’s persistent attempts to kill herself?”  “After being absent so frequently and for so long, are you still justified in describing your marriage as a loving relationship, or your partner as your ‘soulmate’?”  “Was your million-dollar salary really worth it?”

Int he wake of the self-generated corporate financial crisis, some corporate executives are re-examining their ethics and morality.  Not enough are going through this but it’s a start.  Most say they operate for the benefit of shareholders but they cannot deny the reality of massive remuneration for their efforts.  What they are ignoring is the individual cost to their loved ones of these efforts.

Should we look up to the billionaires who sacrifice the wellbeing of others they say they love to chase the dollar?  Are these the paragons of our society?

People are trying to maintain or establish a work/life balance.  (There are several articles at SafetyAtWorkBlog that report on this movement.)  But the reality is that to achieve a work/life balance, one must be prepared to sacrifice income.  This may involve the necessity of achieving a certain stage in one’s career that is not the top, but still a position of value in the company and, equally important, of value to one’s family and even one’s own psychological well-being.  If one’s colleagues fail to understand this decision, the workplace culture is faulty, and probably irreparable.

If the ultimate ideal is to have a happy, functional, and sustainable community, one must examine one’s own motivations, and one’s own personal priorities.  Everyone must consider whether we want to emulate those who sacrifice their family’s welfare for money or whether we support those who rebut the “glory of the high-achiever” and emulate those who love their family enough to spend time with them through their career.  Maintenance is easier than repair in life as in safety management.

Kevin Jones

Occupational violence in fast food restaurants and petrol stations 3

The Australian media has been abuzz over the last couple of days on several issues concerning violence.  Attention increases whenever there is video involved and the latest film of a bashing in Melbourne in a Hungry Jack’s store in the early hours of 13 July 2009 is getting a considerable run.

Most commentators are taking the bashing of 19-year-old Luke Adams as an example of “street violence”.  SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the fact that this event occurred between customers in a workplace, raises questions about the obligations of retail store owners towards health and safety.

The case of Luke Adams again illustrates the reality that surveillance cameras can assist in the apprehension of criminals but does little to reduce the harm to employees and customers.  This seems to be contrary to the OHS principles in Australian OHS legislation.

SafetyAtWorkBlog would ask any retailers who choose to operate, particularly, during nighttime

  • Are the stores designed to reduce (hopefully eliminate) the risk of violent contact between customers and staff?
  • Are there restrictions on the age or gender of staff who work nightshift?
  • Is the first aid training provided to staff designed to accommodate the emergency treatment of severely injured customers?
  • Has the presence of a security guard been tried during nightshifts?
  • Would the company consider closing a store if the risks to staff and customers became unacceptable?

SafetyAtWorkBlog knows of at least one fast food restaurant in Melbourne that removed its public toilets because of the number of drug overdoses that occurred in the cubicles.  This store eventually closed its 24-hour store, partly, because of the unacceptable risk that developed.

The unfortunate linking of fast food restaurants with violent attacks is an issue of all-night trading as much as any other reason.  It was just over two weeks ago that a fight in the grounds of a Hungry Jacks restaurant in suburban Melbourne was reported and wrapped into the current topic of supposedly racist-based attacks against Indian students.

The attacks are not limited to Melbourne though.  A 19-year-old Korean student, Lee Joonyub, was killed in Sydney in 2008 after being stabbed at a fast-food restaurant

AIC Service Station Violence coverThe risk of occupational violence, as it is more traditionally understood, is increasing according to findings released on 16 July 2009 by the Australian Institute of Criminology.  Its report, which also received some media attention from radio, finds that

“The incidence of service station armed robbery has steadily increased over the past decade. ….. This opportunistic targeting of service stations has been attributed to their extended opening hours, their sale of cigarettes and other exchangeable goods, their high volume of cash transactions and their isolation from other businesses. Widespread adoption of crime prevention measures by service stations, such as transfer trays, could help reduce their risk of being robbed…..”

The full report is worth reading closely from an OHS perspective as it identifies the characteristics of services stations (and maybe other all-night retail outlets) that are attractive to the opportunistic robber.  We should not dismiss armed robberies as only involving monetary loss to retailers as the study showed that “one-third of armed robbery victims…were individual”.

The AIC report also states that

“…minimal staffing on night shift is seen to increase the risk of armed robbery victimization for service stations.”

This brings in all the OHS advice and research concerning working alone or in isolation.  However there must be some sympathy for employers trying to recruit night shift workers for industries where violence is an increasing risk.

The mention of the hazard control measure of transfer trays is gratifying as it fits with a higher order of control measure in OHS parlance by providing an engineering control.  However this needs to be backed up by specific training for employees on what to do when required to render assistance outside the enclosed booth.

The application of transfer trays may be valid for fast food stores at nighttime by only offering a drive-thru service and further reducing the risk of customer violence against employees.

Pages from VWAHotspots_retail_10_10Regardless of the physical harm from work tasks arising from working in retail, WorkSafe Victoria advises of four control measures for what it describes as the psychological system of stress, bullying and harassment:

  • Your workplace culture and management should encourage open and effective communication.
  • Develop, implement and enforce clear policies and procedures that address bullying, occupational violence, harassment and work pressure in consultation with workers (including young workers) and management.
  • Where money is handled, put in place security measures to reduce the risk of occupational violence.
  • Training and procedures should include all staff at risk, including any casual or on hire workers.

Kevin Jones

What the next generation of graduates wants 1

A survey of graduates by GradConnection released on 15 July 2009 has important information for Australian companies and provides some optimism for the OHS profession and regulators.

A dominant element of modern employment is work/life balance. In some disciplines this is taken as workplace flexibility. In terms of workplace safety, work/life balance is a euphemism for psychosocial hazards of stress, bullying, fatigue, and workload amongst others. From this position, the survey findings showed that, when asked “What are the most important extra benefits?”, work/life balance scored the most support at almost 39%.

Companies that want to recruit graduates, often those companies which are looking to refresh their staff and workplace culture but also need to build sustainability and longevity, need to review their existing working conditions to match the desires of job seekers. This could be an enormous task for corporations that will take years but smaller companies can afford to be more reactive and flexible and may get the edge on attracting graduates.

It must be acknowledged that over 60% identified high salaries as the most important element in their salary packages. But the work/life balance indicates a growing reality that graduates are less likely to trade off wellbeing for dollars.

This is supported in terms of extra benefits where flexitime and flexible working arrangements gained around 24% and 22% support, respectively. Companies must operate within the time constraints of their industry, suppliers and customers but they should also identify those work processes that allow for flexibility. It may be useful to formalize start and finish times so that there remains a core set of hours within the working day where interaction of staff and clients can be maximised. Some of the social structures are already pushing in this direction with issues of public transport, schooling and childcare already accommodating this flexibility.

David Jenkins, the director of GradConnection, told SafetyAtWorkBlog that

The data we have extracted is drawn from contributions by about 10,500 graduates currently looking at their career options. It gives employers clear indicators as to what grads are looking for in their careers and helps potential employers adjust or increase their messaging about careers on offer at their companies.

Hope for OHS professionals and regulators comes from the fact that of the values that graduates wanted an employer to embrace, health and safety ranked third, behind equal opportunities and environmental sustainability.

This survey is the first generated through the website of GradConnections so the next survey should be able to provide some trend data.

Kevin Jones

More workplace stressors, email and upwards bullying 7

According to a paper presented at the latest Industrial & Organisational Psychology Conference organised by the Australian Psychological Society, poor quality emails are causing almost as much stress in the workplace as the number received.

New Zealand provisional (?) psychologist, Rowena Brown, was presenting findings from her PhD studies and said

“Email is a double-edged sword. We know that email can help employees to feel engaged with and connected to their work colleagues, however the impact of a poor quality email, combined with the expectation to respond immediately, can create unnecessary stress.  Our research raises important issues for employers, who have a responsibility to train their staff in appropriate email etiquette.”

This type of research really doesn’t help business and managers to deal with the stress of their employees because it doesn’t  provide any useful control measures.  There are more significant causes of stress that demand the attention of OHS professionals and managers.

The same conference illustrates one of those other stressors.  Sara Branch, a psychologist Griffith University was quoted on the matter of employees bullying their bosses.

“Upwards bullying, like other forms of workplace bullying, is often more subtle and less obvious to other staff. However, it can also include more aggressive behaviours such as yelling, verbal threats, and confrontational phone conversations.”

“Workplaces need to understand that bullying can occur at any level in an organisation. Although managers clearly have formal authority, they can also be victims of bullying and need just as much support as other staff.”

The study also found, according to a media release about the conference, that one of the main triggers for upwards bullying is organisational change.

“If an employee is disgruntled by change, such as new working conditions, management, or processes, they may blame their manager and respond by bullying them.”

With the increased attention to psychosocial hazards in the occupational health and safety profession, it is necessary to pay attention to these sorts of studies but they are simply new perspectives on established issues that should already be monitored and changed.

These studies may illustrate the issue that OHS professionals can use to gain that managerial or client attention but they should be handled carefully so that these specific issues do not dominate the understanding on the manager or client.

SafetyAtWorkBlog advocates looking outside the OHS discipline for new evidence and understandings of workplace issues be it sociology or psychology but one must avoid reacting to hype.

Kevin Jones

Relocation is always an option for an improved work/life balance Reply

A couple of years ago there was a campaign in Australia to increase the number of general practitioners in rural areas due to a doctor shortage.  One doctor, Nicole Anderson, chose to relocate from tropical Queensland to temperate Tasmania.  She did so for several reasons including improving her work/life balance.

During the campaign in November 2007 I had the chance to talk with Nicole about her experience and her life choices for a SafetyAtWork podcast

As part of the Rural Health Workforce Australia campaign, short videos were produced of which Nicole’s story was one.  Click HERE to see the wonderful countryside Nicole has chosen to practice in.

Kevin Jones

Panic in disaster planning Reply

Three years ago I had the privilege of arranging for Dr Lee Clarke of Rutgers University to attend the Safety in Action Conference in Australia.  Lee had a book out at the time, Worst Cases, and spoke about the reality of panic.  Lee’s studies have continued and are, sadly, becoming more relevant.

Recently, Rutgers University posted a video interview with Lee on Youtube.

Shortly after the World Trade Center collapse in 2001, I asked Lee to write something about the event from his experience and perspective.  He wrote a piece for a special edition of Safety At Work magazine.  The article has been available through his website for some time and is now available through here by clicking on the image below.

I strongly recommend Lee’s books.  As he says in the video, they’re quite fun, in a sad sort of way.

Kevin Jones

Sept11