The myth of the three-hour sleep Reply

The Australian media has widely reported that Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, exists on three-hours sleep per night.  He doesn’t and Professor Drew Dawson, a prominent Australian sleep researcher, discusses the exaggeration of high-flying professionals in an article at Crikey.com on 21 July 2009.

More research of  Professor Drew Dawson, Director, Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia, is available online.

Driving and talking 1

The issue of driving while using a mobile is a perennial issue for the media but nothing much changes.  The New York Times on 20 July 2009 carried an article on the latest research which confirms  many previous studies that using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of an accident.

Pages from 6i17 rawNo US State has banned the practice because social use of mobile phones has become so widespread that any ban is impossible to enforce effectively.

In January 2009, SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on the recommendations from WorkSafe Victoria on the matter.  Even in their guide they would say nothing more than

“recommend that hands free calls be kept to a minimum”.

At some point for most workplace hazards, the evidence outweighs the enforcement difficulties and bans ensue.  It has happened to asbestos, it has happened with smoking, but these are decades after dancing around the most effective control measure – elimination.

Pages from 6i02 v4The industrialised world, in particular, has been wrestling with the hazard of phones and driving for well over a decade.  One report from 2002 said

“Tests carried out by scientists at the Transport Research Laboratory established that driving behaviour is impaired more by using a mobile phone than by being over the legal alcohol limit.”

The footnote to this comment said

“Previous research has shown that phone conversations while driving impair performance. It was difficult to quantify the risk of this impairment because the reference was usually made to normal driving without using a phone. “Worse than normal driving” does not necessarily mean dangerous. There was a need therefore to benchmark driving performance while using a mobile phone to a clearly dangerous level of performance. Driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit is an established danger.”

There are always conditions set with research findings but these are sensible and valid.

Pages from 3i13According to a 2004 report by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported by UPI (unable to find a link)

“…estimated 8 percent of all motorists — about 1.2 million drivers — were using cell phones at any given time while driving, up from 6 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2000. About 800,000 of those drivers used handsets and not hands-free devices.

  • Handheld cell phone use increased from 5 percent to 8 percent among drivers aged 15 to 24 between 2002 and 2004.
  • Use of cellular-phone handsets increased from 4 percent to 6 percent of female drivers, while the number of men talking on handheld cell phones while driving remained constant at 4 percent.
  • Motorists were more likely to use a cell phone while driving alone, but drivers with children in the vehicle were just as likely to use the phone as those without children in the car.”

For those readers who like dollar figures, the same UPI article stated

“A 2002 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, found drivers using cell phones caused 1.5 million accidents annually resulting in 2,600 deaths and 570,000 injuries.

Researchers estimated banning cell phone use in vehicles would cost $43 billion a year in lost economic activity.”

Pages from 2003-119[The only HCRA report on the website is is a 2003 study - Cohen, J.T. and Graham, J.D. A revised economic analysis of restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving. Risk Analysis. 2003; 23(1):5-17.]

A September 2003 report from NIOSH lists a range of driver hazards related to work activities and is worth downloading.  Pages 51-555 deal specifically with phone use.

(If any reader knows of a literature review on this topic, please contact SafetyAtWorkBlog)

This workplace hazard has been around for so long that in the opinion of SafetyAtWorkBlog, when someone is driving a work vehicle 100% of their attention should be on the principal task at hand – driving.

Achieving this realistic aim can be helped by

  • not passing on mobile phone numbers when one knows the person is driving.  The low tech alternative of taking a message works.
  • having employees turn off the phone while driving. (The phone does have an OFF switch)
  • not fitting workplace vehicles with hands-free units.
  • reminding employees of the safe driving policies of the business; and
  • enforcing those policies so that employees know that dangerous acts will not be tolerated or compensated by the company.

Above all, employees must be informed of the risks involved with distraction, must be reassured that employers will support safe actions, and must realise the affect on other drivers and their families from their own mistakes.

Kevin Jones

Aspirational targets are next to useless put politically expedient 1

Further to the recent blog article on New South Wales WorkCover statistics,  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been provided with a copy of the official Comparative Performance Monitoring (CPM) report that was released in August 2008.  These figures are used to measure performance against the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012.

SafeWorkAustralia has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the next edition is due in October 2009 (just in time for Safe Work Australia Week – what a coincidence!) after it has been discussed at the next scheduled Workplace Relations Ministers Council amongst other meetings.

Most organisations, including political ones, have key performance indicators for managers and the companies themselves, to measure the likelihood of meeting the target.  This may involve additional remuneration, awards or any other type of recognition.  If the target is not reached, there are repercussions – loss of potential bonus, loss of job….

The National OHS Strategy has no reward for achievement other than a warm, fuzzy feeling.  Nor does it have any penalty except the same warm, fuzzy feeling with perhaps a few less degrees of warmth or duration.

According to the media release from the then-National OHS Council in May 2002, the “indicators of success” are

  • “Workplace parties recognise and incorporate OHS as an integral part of their normal business operations
  • Increased OHS knowledge and skills in workplaces and the community
  • Governments develop and implement more effective OHS interventions
  • Research, data and evaluations provide better, timelier information for effective prevention”

The release also said

“There are five initial national priority areas for action to achieve short-term and longer-term improvements…. The priorities are:

  • reduce high incidence/severity risks;
  • improve the capacity of business operators and workers to manage OHS effectively;
  • prevent occupational disease more effectively;
  • eliminate hazards at the design stage;
  • strengthen the capacity of government to influence OHS outcomes”

These are classic “aspirational targets” that have no penalties for failure.  The targets themselves were discussed in the previous blog article.

According to the 2008 CPM report summary

“The reduction in the incidence rate of injury and musculoskeletal claims between the base period (2000–01 to 2002–03) and 2006–07 was 16%, which means the interim target of a 20% reduction by 2006–07 has not been met.  It is also below the rate of improvement needed to meet the long term target of a 40% improvement by 2012.  The rate of decline in the incidence of claims will need to accelerate in future years if the target is to be achieved.  Four jurisdictions however, met the interim target of improvement: NSW with 29% improvement, the Australian Government with 27% improvement and South Australia and Seacare each recorded 24% improvement.  Although these four jurisdictions recorded improvements higher than the 20% required, considerable efforts will be required by all jurisdictions if the national target is to be met.

The number of fatalities recorded for 2006–07 is lower than in previous years, increasing the percentage improvement from the base period.  The incidence of compensated fatalities from injury and musculoskeletal disorders decreased by 16% from the base period to 2006–07, thus the interim target of a 10% reduction by 2006–07 has been surpassed.  The national incidence rate is still ‘on target’ to meet the 20% reduction required by 2011–12, however there is a considerable amount of volatility in this measure and consistent improvement is required.

The National OHS Strategy also includes an aspirational target for Australia to have the lowest work-related traumatic fatality rate in the world by 2009.  Analysis of international data indicates that in 2006–07, Australia recorded the sixth lowest injury fatality rate, with this rate decreasing more quickly than many of the best performing countries in the world.  However, despite this improvement, it is unlikely that Australia will meet the aspirational goal unless substantial improvements are recorded in the next few years.”

The federal government can react in several ways if the signatories to the strategy fail to meet the target in 2012:

  • Blame the previous government who was in power at the time of the strategy;
  • the large number of parties to the strategy made it impossible to coordinate;
  • The political climate has changed so much  that the targets reflected unreasonable expectations; or
  • The economic climate has changed so much that the targets reflected unreasonable expectations.

Unless all the parties renew their efforts (and their budgets) in order to reach the targets in 2012, from 2009, which is highly unlikely, 2012 is going to have an OHS “elephant in the room” and it will have been white.

Kevin Jones

An OHS look at the Fair Work book 2

On 9 July 2009 I wrote in SafetyAtWorkBlog

“The  Fair Work Act has no relevance to occupational health and safety, so why mention this on SafetyAtWorkBlog?”

The Fair Work Act changes the negotiating and consultative structure of Australian workplaces stemming from changes in industrial relations law.

Fair Work Book cover 002A book that came across my desk this morning suggests several other overlaps of OHS and IR in the new regime.  Federation Press sent a copy of  “Fair Work – The New Workplace Laws and the Work Choices Legacy“, a book edited by Anthony Forsyth and Andrew Stewart.

In Andrew Stewart’s chapter he talks of how the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission made several extreme rulings on the application of State OHS laws to federal employees.  He states that the government of Kevin Rudd has progressed OHS legislative reforms considerably by the government has “not indicated any interest in taking over the field itself”.  The reticence has seemed strange and I was one of those who tipped a greater role for Comcare as a  body for national OHS oversight.

Stewart has interpreted the government’s suspension of Comcare licences for national workers compensation coverage as  illustrating the government’s interest lies

“in streamlining workers compensation for multi-State employers, rather than imposing a national regime”.

Ron McCallum is an Australia labour academic who always demands attention. Stewart includes a particularly salient reference

“Ron McCallum, for example, has argued that labour laws that are centred around corporations are unlikely to retain a ‘wholesome’ balance between employers and employees.  Ultimately, he suggests, such laws are likely to become ‘little more that a sub-set of corporations law because inevitably they will fasten upon the economic needs of corporations and their employees will be viewed as but one aspect of the productive process in our globalized economy.”

The path to fairness is likely to continue to be rocky even during the terms of a government that originated from the labour movement.

NES

Jill Murray and Rosemary Owens write a chapter focusing on the Safety Net, a set of legislated minimum standards – National Employment Standards (NES).  These standards are not “lines in the sand” and have purposely been given inherently flexibility.  One of the issues discussed by Murray & Owens is maximum working hours.

This is particularly important to those of us who are trying to manage the issues of fatigue and impairment in workplaces.  The authors state that it remains between the employer and employee to determine what hours, additional to the 38-hour working week, are “reasonable”.  Some of the relevant safety factors in determining reasonableness are listed as

  • “Occupational health and safety risks”
  • “Personal circumstances, including family responsibilities”, as well as
  • “Needs of the workplace or enterprise” and
  • “any other relevant matter.”

Murray & Owens say that to determine reasonableness is almost impossible to negotiate between individuals because there is no priority allocated to each of the eleven criteria.    The authors say

“… this kind of conflict is exactly what the provision must confront: a business might have urgent demands on production, yet an individual worker has to get home to cook tea for the family.”

Murray & Owens go on

“By placing the potential to expand working hours in the hands of the parties at the workplace, the NES, like WorkChoices, really mean that whoever holds the greater power (and, perhaps, knowledge of their rights) is likley to prevail, notwithstanding any calculation of reasonableness.”

Here is the opportunity for the union movement to generate additional members and in an industrial relations climate that allows fro greater access to employees.  It is rare to find any individual who understands their own employment rights sufficiently to negotiate by and for themselves.  The union movement could again become the “Friend of the Workers” by actually being the friend of workers and doing some solid footwork.

The Fair Work book is far more than this short article indicates.  I only received the book this morning but am promising myself that I will read the rest.

As safety management broadens itself to cover psychosocial risks, it increasingly overlaps industrial relations, a workplace element that, with luck and a bit of work, could have been avoided by OHS professionals in the past.  That is no longer the case and OHS professionals must understand how industrial relations changes will affect their own workplace and how they do their jobs.  The Fair Work book is a great place to start.

Kevin Jones

“Union safety”? 2

Reading an article about CFMEU organiser, Joe McDonald, today illustrates an important differentiation to be kept in mind.  A unionist’s benchmark for safety compliance may differ from that of the employer, regardless of the fact that the employer has the major legislative obligation to establish a “safe and healthy work environment”.

Joe McDonald pledges to keep his members safe.  A spokesperson for the construction company said

“…there were some safety issues at the site but said they were being addressed when the union walked out.”

How does walking away from OHS consultation improve safety?

The cause of the confusion on “safety” comes from the weakening of prescriptive legislation and codes to accommodate operating costs, and in the increase of the  “reasonably practicable”  test.

The union movement in New South Wales had the most extreme level of OHS regulation in Australia.  It was hated by the business sector and has been weakened by the government as a result of federal pressures and aims but, the fact that New South Wales has achieved a 2% reduction in the injury incident rate, may add weight to the unions’ desire to retain the legislation.

There is a fundamental dichotomy of regulatory and operational approaches in OHS management in Australia currently that the harmonised OHS system may only exacerbate.  It is now up to the Safe Work Australia boffins to keep an open mind in harmonisation negotiations but to also remained focused on the aim of any OHS legislation which is to keep people safe.

Kevin Jones

Statistics traps and a soft “warning” 1

In the Sydney Morning Herald on 17 July 2009, Kirsty Needham reported

“Total injuries rose by 2339 (2 per cent) to 142,542″

The media release from the Minister, Joe Tripodi  on 15 July pointed out that the injury rate actually fell by 2%.  An important point for the article and an error that has already been pointed out to Kirsty by others in New South Wales.  Sadly, the error is understandable to those of us who dip into the statistical reports. (SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on the NSW stats previously)

However, this should not be case.  Statistics should be supported by clear analyses that allow the layperson to understand, particularly, whether their government agencies’ efforts are providing  positive results.

Business “warning”

The alert to New South Wales businesses Kirsty refers to is the regular WorkCover News sent out to businesses in hard copy but also available for download.

Below is an excerpt from the article “Safety matters in hard times

“Many businesses in NSW and across the country are feeling the effect of the global financial crisis. Some employers are cutting costs and workers want to know what that means for them. For the good of your pocket as well as your people, it’s important you uphold safety at work.

Hard times can hit in a number of ways, and nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace. Some businesses might cut their stationery budget; some might put projects or recruitment plans on hold; others might consider a complete restructure. These decisions can affect more than the bottom line.

One thing to consider is the health and safety of your workers. Pressure and change can cause stress and anxiety. If your workers are distracted they may make mistakes or put themselves at risk. If your workers feel insecure, they may not tell you about new hazards. If you take on jobs you don’t have the capacity to deliver, your equipment and people may not cope. Any of these factors could take a human toll.”

As the newsletter is one of the few that Australian OHS regulators publish in hard copy nowadays it is worth registering for.  For non-Australian readers, the site is worth bookmarking if overseas.

Kevin Jones

New Worker Memorial 3

On 13 July 2009, Tasmania’s Minister for Workplace Relation Lisa Singh braved

Lisa Singh MP, Minister for Workplace Relations

Lisa Singh MP, Minister for Workplace Relations

the elements to launch the Tasmanian Workers Commemorative Park in Launceston.  The park is a work in progress and the local council is looking for support in the memorial’s completion.

According to the Minister’s media release, the Park was created to honour those who have died in the workplace.

“A memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives at work is an important way of reminding the community that workplaces can be dangerous places,” Ms Singh said. “The cost to the community can be calculated in dollar terms, but it is the social cost that is incalculable.  How can anyone even imagine the grief felt by family and friends when a loved one is killed at work?”

It is not unreasonable to hope that every Workplace Relations Minister has talked with victims of workplace fatalities and illnesses and could “imagine the grief”.  The Tasmanian government has pledged $A5,000 to the project.

Simon Cocker, Secretary of Unions Tas, told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the Tasmanian union movement is supportive of all memorials to injured workers and hoes that this is the first of a series of memorials in each of the  major Tasmanian cities.  The union movement is discussing how much financial support they can provide the memorial.

A media release from the Launceston City Council says:

Elizabeth Gardens, on the corner of Invermay Road and Forster Street, was chosen as the most appropriate site as it provides a peaceful and uncluttered spot suitable for contemplation and it has strong connections with past work places of Invermay.  Its close proximity to the popular Aurora Stadium also gives the site state prominence.

The path through Elizabeth Gardens will be sealed and edged with bricks and an arbour will be constructed along the path, using materials selected for their relevance to a wide range of employment sectors.

The design includes a seating area that will be surrounded by ripples. The ripples will be made from clay bricks that represent the individuals who have died.

Cocker says that he hopes the memorial project (pictured below) can be completed in time for the International Workers Memorial Day on 28 April 2010.

Kevin Jones

Tas Workers Comemorative Park plan for broch nospon small

Latest Code of Practice on Scaffolding Reply

Australia has had some awful scaffolding collapses and swing-stage incidents over recent times.  (At least four articles on the issue can be found in SafetyAtWorkBlog by using the search function on the right).  Sometimes, some would say often, Australian OHS regulators can respond quickly to a workplace situation.

The Queensland Government commissioned a review of suspended, or swing stage, scaffolding  by Dr Andrew Baigent.  The report was finalised in August 2008.  A new scaffolding code of practice was released in early July 2009.
report-suspendedscaffolds coverscaffolding_code2009 cover

OHS regulator resources in perspective Reply

It is essential for corporate OHS policy-makers to leave their high-rise offices to experience high-risk workplaces such as factories and small business.  This exposure to reality will add a practicality and ease of implementation to their OHS initiatives.

3i17 coverIn a similar way it is important that OHS professionals in industrialised nations with online references immediately to hand, and assistance at the end of a mobile phone call, realise that workplace safety can implemented, taught and regulated with a lot less.  Some countries have no option but to work with lean resources but good skills.

In 2002 I conducted an interview with Stanley D Pirione, the Deputy Commissioner of Labour for the Solomon Islands.  In 2008 Mr Pirione was the Under-Secretary – Strategic Policy and Reform of the Public Service.  Over the last seven years, the Solomon Islands has faced many political and economic crises.

The interview below is from 2002 but, I think, it is a useful reminder of how some our colleagues have to achieve similar performance targets with a lot less.

Kevin Jones

SAW: Could you provide us with an outline of your Department’s activity and structure?

SP: Eight workers usually staff the OHS Unit but at the moment, we have only 3 workers. We operate under the Labour Division of the Ministry of Commerce and Employment and Industries. The main objective is to provide protection for workers from work hazards, promote and control safety and health at the workplace and provide advice to employers and employees about their respective duties as stipulated in the various Acts and Laws. We also carry out inspections on work policies and practices within industries to ensure compliance with our standards.

We also have Labour Inspectors who conduct respect inspections and surprise inspections. We usually go on tours to the provinces. The geography of the islands means that the islands are very far from Honiara, the main place. We conduct no more than two or three visits a year.

We promote Labour laws through the local newspapers, brochures, even through the radio. We host workshops and seminars for the middle managers and health and safety officers.

SAW: Does the Department’s workforce include the Inspectors?

SP: We usually conduct inspections on Honiara because it is less costly and close to our offices. The islands are very scattered and it can take 10 to 15 hours to travel by boat to the other side. To go by plane is too costly.

We do have overseers in our sub-centres but due to the government problems, some of the workers have been called back to the main centre in Honiara. But what we are doing now is we are providing “extension services” where we appoint workers from the private sector to do labour inspections for the Government. We go through a number of procedures with them; the Government blesses them and gives them the mandate to inspect. These people then have the same powers as the Labour Officers. We are opening up for those in the private sector.

For the past 16 or 18 months, the rate of inspections has really declined because of our problems in the Solomons.

SAW: How is the integrity of the inspection by the “extension services” maintained?

SP: We appoint inspectors in their own respective fields, especially those in manufacturing, mining, fisheries and forestry. Each inspector inspects within his own area of work.

SAW: In a country of limited resources, what is the major source of information on new OHS hazards, or hazard controls?

SP: We always tip in on ILO Suva who give us much information. Last year, two of our officers attended regional workshops on health and safety in Nadi. We make use of this information and then disseminate it to the industries.

However, the standard of information to the public is very low. Most of the workers in the industries are not really aware of the safety standards. The Government itself has not really recognised the role of the OHS Unit. We work on every possible means of resources that we have in giving them out to these people.

SAW: How long has the Solomons had workplace safety legislation?

SP: Since Independence. We have only two Acts here – the Workers Compensation Act and the Safety At Work Act. They were enacted in Parliament in 1982 and the latest review was in 1996. We still need to update these Acts because there are a lot of things to be done.

The standard of safety practiced by foreign companies in the Solomons is very much higher compared to our safety legislation. The Safety At Work Act is too general. It does not cover specific industries like those in mining and fisheries

SAW: I suspect that overseas companies dominate mining.

SP: So far, we only have one mine and mining company, an Australian company. But it is the logging industry that has dominated the workforce here.

We have 15 to 18 logging operations in the Solomons, mostly from Malaysia. The problem is that this group do not enforce their labour standards here, compared to the New Zealand and Australian companies.

SAW: Do the Solomons pay close attention to voluntary standards imposed by overseas companies?

SP: The conditions we place on foreign companies when they move in are to make sure that their standards match ours. But there are too much politics involved and then they will just get through. We usually make use of the powers that we have available through our legislation. We give companies enough time to improve on their standards. Mostly when the investors come in we say this is what we expect from you.

SAW: Many countries have to balance the enforcement of safety standards so as not to deter investment. Is that the case in the Solomons?

SP: The Government has appealed to all the Departments to facilitate as much as possible to let these people in. There should not be any hindrance, there should not be any delay in processing whatever they intend to do. In fact health and safety is also treated as a hindrance to their intended activities but we always state that they should not operate below our standards.

SAW: Do the Australian companies have difficulty in that arrangement?

SP: The Australian companies in mining and manufacturing have higher standards than their Asian counterparts. We always use their standards to inspect, particularly in the Asian logging companies. We are using Codes o Practices as guidelines, from New Zealand, even from Australia. We use them as a standard, we know that that is higher than the one we have here but we know that that is internationally recognised.

SAW: Is logging the dominant industry in the Solomons?

SP: For the post 10 years or so, logging has been the dominant industry. The logging companies employ 20-30% of the private sector. This is the industry that we have a lot of injuries from. Mostly, minor injuries like cuts and lacerations. Over the last 5 years we have received many accidents from the manufacturing and forestry sectors. We have an average of 2-3 fatal cases each year.

SAW: Principally in the logging industry?

SP: Yes

SAW: Are injured logging workers rehabilitated through the companies’ processes or is the compensation and rehabilitation mainly through the Government’s workers compensation legislation and processes?

SP: For fatal accidents, the company pays out for the funeral expenses. They meet all the payments and sometimes pay some compensation to the worker’s relatives and dependents. That is treated differently from what is required under the Workers Compensation Act.

We follow our own formula and procedures. The companies have nothing to say about that. Once we give a claim, we charge them for negligence, for not abiding by the provisions. There should be no questions about that.

For small incidents like abrasions, contusions or small simple fractures or sprains and strains, we follow the Workers Compensation Act.

But there are particular arrangements that occur between the employee and the employer, outside of the Act. We always welcome those.

SAW: Are the mines in the Solomons open-cut or underground?

SP: Open cut. The mining industry is very new and started about 6 years ago. We haven’t yet tried to make provisions for Codes of Practice with regards to mining. We are confident because of the standard of health and safety within this mining company. We are not concentrating on mining because we know too well that the standards are much higher than in logging.

SAW: What industry do most people want to be employed in? Is it logging because of high pay? Alternatively, is it mining because it is a safe industry with an Australian company? Do the citizens of the Solomons consider safety when they go for jobs?

SP: These industries have generated a great deal of money in a very short time. These have attracted workers because of the high pay and all sorts of allowances. Before that most of the workers were focussing in the manufacturing sector or the fishing sector. Just because the work is lighter particularly in the manufacturing sector, there’s not as much exposure to hazards. There is a lot less risk than in the logging.

The logging companies do pay bonuses for those who are exposed to very dangerous situations.

The fishing is quite similar. Due to the problems in the fishing sector, many workers have left and moved to the logging sector. Most of the workers go to the industries based on higher wages.

SAW: Some countries separate the OHS enforcement of fishing from land-based industries. Does this happen in the Solomons?

SP: The Safety at Work Act is too general. It only mentions responsibilities of employers and workers. It does not say anything about fishing although it gives more time for the Minister responsible to put out rules or regulations. Mostly, the Safety at Work Act covers only the manufacturing sector, not specifically fishing or even logging and mining. We have a bit of difficulty so can only place their obligation under the Safety at Work Act. Regardless of what industry you are involved in, regardless of what activity you are doing, as long as you are the employer, defined by the Law, and then this is your responsibility.

SAW: If you were able to have anything to improve OHS in the Solomons, what would you choose?

SP: We have a range of programs here to give out enforcement standards to workers. We have a lot of workshops and programs targeting certain industries. We also have radio programs, we have field and enterprise inspections. We usually go out on courtesy visits and then we talk with the employer and the employee. It is not like a policing attitude. We suggest, in a friendly manner, what they should do.

We also issue pamphlets and brochures but the problem with all this is that we do not have enough money to carry out all our programs. That’s why we are now establishing “extension services”. The Government then does not have to go and spend money for inspections. We appoint inspectors in their own respective industries.

We also need training programs. We did have a project sponsored by the UNDP, where some of our officers used to go out to New Zealand. Last week, Papua New Guinea’s OHS Division sends us information but now the UNDP has withdrawn its sponsor….

SAW: Many countries have support on workplace safety from the trade union movement. Is that so in the Solomons?

SP: The union movement in the Solomon Islands deals with wage increases and other conditions of services but not necessarily on occupational health and safety. It is quite weak. Many workers have been frustrated by the weaknesses of the union. The union movement has been talking too much about politics and not concentrating on their members or increasing the membership.

The safety standards have not really been discussed in negotiations. They are more concerned with better wages and better housing.

SAW: The political problems have resulted in some areas that you cannot go to. How much did the instability hamper you Department’s operations?

SP: During the 1997 Government there was a lot of consultation with overseas groups from Australia and New Zealand providing seminars. There was a lot of motivation. We have tried very hard to improve on labour law reviews. We also tried to work out Codes of Practices in new areas, put up new Regulations. The activity of the OHS Unit have been gradually increased since 1997. The Government has been very supportive of our work plans. The Government gave us a vehicle to use to carry out inspections.

Due to the ethnic problems of the Solomons, nearly 50% of our operations have been affected. There are no finances. Some of our workers have been left out. A former OHS Officer is now a Minister of the Government. He resigned, went home and then ran for election. Some of our workers now work in the private sector. This is because the Government has not been very supportive in addressing the problems we have encountered.

We are optimistic as things gradually improve. It is only law and order that is the problem we have right now. But we are optimistic, we are now establishing the “extension services”.

Recently I conducted two inspections. One was a logging company in one of the provinces and I will be going out inspecting in July, August, and September. By the end of this year, I should have covered at least six or seven logging companies.

We have just finished one workshop and we are trying to have another in June.

SAW: Thank you very much for your time.

It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it Reply

One of my colleagues has described her role in a corporation as an “irritant”.  She is responsible for quality, environment, risk and OHS – all of those required business elements that companies will avoid or ignore if they could.   Her company acknowledges that these elements are necessary and values her role and efforts.

OHS professionals could benefit from realising that in most circumstances, they are not welcome, or rather, their advice is not welcome.  OHS is a bitter pill for many companies.  But handled well, explained and discussed, OHS can be a substantial agent for positive change.

Sadly, one construction industry unionist in Australia is doing more harm than good.  Joe McDonlad is an experienced unionist who is undoubtedly committed to the safety of his members in Western Australia’s construction industry.  However, he does not respect the law or due process.

This week, Joe McDonald was fined $10,000 by a Perth Magistrate, Jeremy Packington, for unlawfully entering three building sites in 2007.  McDonald’s actions generated considerable political discussion at the time, mainly because his actions occurred during an election campaign.

Safety improvements can be achieved without confrontation and insults.  A major OHS principle is consultation.  McDonald is a safety-focused trade unionist who may succeed in his aims to improve safety for his members.  But the manner in which he conducts his services is causing widespread damage to the cause of OHS in the general community, employers’ perceptions of OHS and the trade union movement in general.

Sometimes the bigger picture is important.

An audio report and a video report of Joe’s action on the construction site and his thoughts on safety are available online.

Kevin Jones