Wriedt provides context of her depression Reply

Former Tasmanian MP, Paul Wriedt, has provided an Australian Sunday newspaper with a long article that provides the context for her suicide attempt, depression and career implosion.  The full article is well worth reading and shows the combination of factors that led to her suicide attempt.

Excessive workload is mentioned several times and, although it is only one of the confluence of factors, the workloads and working hours of politicians remain untreated elements of the health and wellbeing of important social p0licy decision-makers.

If, as many safety advocates profess, safety is led from the top, politicians are doing the safety profession a disservice by not structuring their work environments and schedules to ensure a healthy workplace.

One point is not mentioned in the article.  Paula Wriedt is a spokesperson for beyondblue, the most prominent depression-related organisation in Australian.  In fact Ms Wriedt is one of the organisation’s recent “ambassadors”.

Beyondblue has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that the Sunday Herald-Sun article was Ms Wriedt’s own work and that beyondblue was not aware of the article before publication.

The beyondblue spokesperson said that the organisation is expanding its pool of ambassadors which should be of particular interest to those working in the workplace health sector.  Ambassadors operate on a volunteer basis and may be eligible for the reimbursement of costs in specific circumstances.

[Hm, voluntary ambassadors lobbying on behalf of a health issue on a voluntary basis.  Perhaps the safety profession could offer a similar “outreach program”]

Ms Wriedt was not obliged to mention beyondblue in the article and it is clear that she sees public discussion on depression issues to be one of her own career goals, but it would have been appropriate to mention her relationship, particularly as she is a beyondblue ambassador.

Kevin Jones

An Ombudsman for the safety profession 4

WorkSafe Victoria is very keen for the safety advice and management discipline to become professional.  It is providing considerable technical and financial support to the Safety Institute of Australia and other members of the Health and Safety Professionals Alliance (HaSPA).  The current status of HaSPA in Australia has been discussed in other SafetyAtWorkBlog articles.

HaSPA likes to compare itself to other managerial professions such as accounting, medicine and the law, and is trying to establish a contemporary profession.  One of the professions mentioned, law, an established profession for hundreds of years, is seriously considering the introduction of an ombudsman, a concept that should have been established already for the safety sector.

According to a media report in The Australian on 4 September 2009:

A taskforce of federal and state officials is working on a plan to create a national legal ombudsman with unprecedented power over the nation’s lawyers.

If the plan goes ahead, the ombudsman would be able to set standards for all lawyers, oversee the handling of all complaints from consumers and intervene with the profession’s state-based regulators.

One option being considered would establish the office of the legal ombudsman as a new national institution drawing authority from a network of uniform state laws.

This would unify the regulation of lawyers and give state governments a role in confirming prospective candidates for the new national office.

Lawyers, rather than taxpayers, could be asked to pay for the cost of establishing their new regulator.

The taskforce, which has been appointed by federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, is examining the possibility of establishing the new office as the centrepiece for the promised regulatory overhaul of the legal profession.

OHS law in Australia is undergoing its most major national review in decades.  Shouldn’t the safety profession also develop the “Office of the Safety Ombudsman”?  The legal profession is doing all the work on a model.

Australia has a tradition of effective industry-based ombudsmen.  A list is available online but the most publicly well-known would be the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

[In the last couple of years the safety profession has heard from the Victorian Health Services Commissioner, Beth Wilson, on the purpose and role of the commission and how the safety profession can learn from her support, adjudication and  advocacy.  The commissioner is not an ombudsman but there may be a role for a safety commissioner to address WorkSafe’s concerns over the quality of safety advice being provided by safety professioanls to business.  A video of Beth Wilson briefly discussing the role is available on YouTube.]

The application of an Ombudsman model in the safety profession should be discussed but similar objections will be raised to those of the legal profession in the article quoted above.  Underpinning the objections is that an established profession is resistant to change and suspicious of relinquishing the power it has established over its lifetime.

If the safety advocates are truly committed to establishing a contemporary profession, the concept of a safety ombudsman must be discussed or else  the system of self-regulation will continue and so will the lack of independence, the lack of accountability, the limited communication and the lack of faith by the general community that safety professionals can be trusted to do a good job.

Kevin Jones

Australian stun gun review report Reply

Coincidentally after the SafetyAtWorkBlog article on the Braidwood Inquiry, the Queensland government investigation into the use of stun guns by police officers has been leaked to an Australian newspaper a day before the official release.

According to a media story in The Australian on 4 September 2009:

The joint Crime and Misconduct Commission-police review, launched after the June heart-attack death of north Queensland man Antonio Galeano, has ordered an overhaul of police training and operational policy, requiring the stun guns to be used only when there is a “risk of serious injury”.

The review, to be released today and obtained exclusively by The Australian, marks the first time an Australian authority has recognised the possibility the stun guns can injure or kill, especially when fired repeatedly at a person.

Within eight hours of the story above being released, a report, again in The Australian, but by a different writer, says:

“A CMC spokeswoman said the contents of the report were yet to be released but claims the weapons would be banned were untrue.”

The confusing reports may say more about journalism than stun guns but it also indicates the extreme sensitivity about the use of these items by emergency and security officers.

SafetyAtWorkBlog will include a link to the Queensland report once it has been publicly released.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE – Report released

The Queensland report into stun gun use has been released and is now available for download.

Pages from 16225001252029372054 qld taser report cmc

Thoughts on tasers and the hierarchy of controls 5

The Braidwood inquiry report into the use of energy weapons (tasers) is readily available on the internet.  Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog would know that I consider tasers to be a item of personal protective equipment (PPE) for enforcement officers.

Phase1Report-2009-06-18 coverDetermining whether PPE is the most appropriate hazard control measure usually involves the application of the Hierarchy of Controls. The hierarchy is not applicable for all workplace hazards, particularly in the control of psychosocial hazards, but it’s a good place to start.

While reading the executive summary of Canada’s Braidwood report, one part in particular reminded me of the hierarchy – page 17.

Although the definitions for “assaultive behaviour” in both use-of-force continuums can be traced back to the Criminal Code’s language for common assault, they also justify use of the weapon when there has been only an attempted common assault, and even when no criminal offence has been committed.  I concluded that the subject behaviour threshold should be met when the subject is causing bodily harm or the officer is satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that the subject’s behaviour will imminently cause bodily harm.  Even then, an officer should not deploy the weapon unless satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that no lesser force option would be effective, and de-escalation and/or crisis intervention techniques would not be effective.

Let’s see if the hierarchy can apply.

Can the subject behaviour be eliminated? – No

Substitution doesn’t seem relevant.

Can we engineer out the threatening behaviour? – Barriers, shields… perhaps but the presence of these items may also inflame the behaviour, increasing the hazard.

Can administrative controls be applied to the hazard? Unlikely, unless the subject was cooperative or able to accept instruction or read signs, in which case, the hazard may not exist.

That leaves PPE, in this case a Taser.

The report places a considerable number of criteria that the enforcement officer must apply prior to using the taser and these should be considered administrative controls but as these apply to the enforcement officer and not the subject, they would not come under the hierarchy of controls.

I welcome readers comments on this rumination on Tasers as PPE, and/or the application of the Hierarchy of Controls to a police situation.

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.

In Australia OHS management is red tape 2

The Australian newspaper of 1 September 2009 epitomised the ideological problems with OHS in a business management context.  Page 5 has two articles next to each other:

Renewed pledge to cut business regulation” and

Building chief ‘spat on an abused‘”.

The first article reports on a speech by the Competition Minister, Craig Emerson, where it is reported that the Minister

“has pledged his commitment to removing unnecessary regulation that hampered business”.

The Minister was speaking to a business audience and has been described as less friendly to regulation than his predecessor.  OHS compliance is often bundled as an element of unnecessary business paperwork by employer and industry groups however, in this speech, the Minister spoke more of open markets.

The second article focuses on an attack on the head of the much-hated Australian Building & Construction Commission, John Lloyd, but also reports on the national union protest scheduled for 1 September 2009, concerning the weakening of OHS laws through the harmonisation process.

The article reports on a union survey:

“Unions commissioned a poll that showed 78 per cent of those surveyed agreed employers should do more to protect the health and safety of their workers, even if it led to increased costs or red tape.”

That unions would even accept that OHS compliance could be considered red tape is a great concern, and the phrase is taken directly from the ACTU media release.

Union Survey figures

SafetyAtWorkBlog is endeavouring to obtain the original survey results (over 1000 respondents (workers) taken in the last week of August 2009) but for the moment it is worth quoting ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence’s interpretation of the statistics.

“… this poll shows the Australian public don’t want workplace safety rights undermined.”

“The poll shows there is significant support in the Australian community for stronger rights and protections for workers and an ongoing role for unions in checking workplaces where employees are worried they are in danger.

“The poll finds 81 per cent of those surveyed agreed workers should have the right to call in help from a union to check on health and safety issues regardless of their employer’s approval.

“Seven out of ten Australians (69%) believe that injured workers should be able to take their employer to court under workplace health and safety laws.”

Business and government in Australia are harmonising OHS laws to reduce the red tape business compliance costs.  Unions believe that OHS red tape and increased business cost is acceptable.

What does this leave the safety professional who says that they can minimise the red tape associated with OHS compliance AND that safety is not a cost but an investment?  Out in the cold with the Victorian WorkCover Minister, it is suggested.

Kevin Jones

Do You Have a Policy on the Use of MP3 Players? 2

The National Transportation Safety Administration estimates that at least 25% of all automobile accidents are caused by distracted drivers.  Research has already proven that listening to music through earbuds or headphones while driving is a distraction and becoming a leading cause of vehicle incidents.  It is, in fact, now illegal to use earbuds or headphones in the states of California and New York while operating a motor vehicle.

In Australia similar research, by insurance companies, notes the same findings.  A spokesman for NRMA Insurance, John Hallal, stated that “Drivers should always be alert to what is happening around them, and by using headphones, the driver is likely to be less aware of the surrounding traffic conditions.  Headphones can totally block out other sounds. You won’t hear a siren, you won’t hear a horn – and that can be dangerous.”

So is there a good solution?  Auto makers are increasingly offering jacks to support MP3 players in their vehicles. Some have more integrated systems that allow iPod or MP3 playlists to be displayed on the dashboard and operated through buttons mounted on the steering wheel.  The problem is, not all people are buying new vehicles in a time of recession and don’t have the option for plugging their iPod or MP3 player into their vehicle.  Furthermore, drivers are still tempted to change songs on the console or MP3 player and turn their music louder; again a possible distraction while operating a motor vehicle. Driving with earbuds or headphones is considered a potential distraction/hazard and can lead to motor vehicle accidents under certain conditions.

Operators of any motor vehicle should be able to hear traffic and be aware of any driving hazards around them.  This means that any distractions while driving should be eliminated to include using earbuds or headphones. For the safety of yourself, your family and others sharing the road, your attention must be dedicated to driving the car.

Another question that arises is whether or not it’s safe to use MP3 players in the workplace. Increasingly, workers are wearing earbuds or headphones to block out background noise and distractions around them. Some workers find it helps reduce stress and boredom which could lead to greater productivity and worker morale.  But is it safe?

Wearing an MP3 player could be a potential hazard in situations where the cord could be caught in a piece of machinery.  Often workers with long hair are required to tie back their hair for the same reason.  An MP3 player could also influence the path taken by electricity in the same manner as wearing metal jewellery.

The safe use of MP3 players can be managed by setting a clear policy.  Although completely banning the use of MP3 players may remove the risk to injury, for tasks that are repetitive or monotonous it can keep a worker stimulated and more productive.

In conclusion, Employers need to assess the injury risk to reward potential that MP3 players pose for a specific setting or activity.  There is no blanket answer that can be applied and safety is also not the only issue, communication breakdowns among workers can develop and theft of proprietary information are just two other considerations.

Pamela Cowan