Drug and alcohol testing does not improve workplace safety, so why have it? 3

cover of EN455_NCETA_2011-2 Testing for drug and alcohol effects in workplaces sounds sensible but what do you do when there is no evidence that it improves worker safety or reduces risk? Apparently ignore the evidence, create industrial tension and impose unnecessary costs on industry.

The Australian national government and the Victorian (State) government have both pledged to introduce drug and alcohol testing for the construction sector.  The Victorian Government also promised to introduce drug and alcohol testing for parliamentarians but everyone expects a backdown on that election pledge.

Recently two researchers in Adelaide, Ken Pidd and Anne Roche published a research paper in Accident Analysis & Prevention asking “how effective is drug testing as a workplace safety strategy?“.  The abstract states:

“…the evidence base for the effectiveness of testing in improving workplace safety is at best tenuous.”


Applying a “bullshit filter” during Mental Health Week 5

Cover of MCA_Mental_Health_Blueprint_FINALThis week in Australia is Mental Health Week.  Some call it an Mental Health Awareness Week.  Either way the Australian media will be full of experts and “experts”.  Workplace health strategies will not be excluded but when reading and listening to this media content, one important point should be remembered – “mental health” is significantly different from “mental illness”.

Such differentiation should not be dismissed as semantics because health, illness, problems and disorders involve different levels of analysis and diagnosis and, therefore, different strategies, interventions and control measures.

Recently the Minerals Council of Australia released its mental health blueprint in which the following important definitions were prominent. More…

Beware the power of words Reply

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are being encouraged to think differently about safety and to focus on the positives instead of the failures, the leads instead of the lags. This needs to be supported by how we describe workplace incidents and in this context the profession can learn from one aspect of the debate on family violence in which Australia is currently engaged.

One example is available in this article from Women’s Agenda.  In it Editor Jane Gilmore writes about how the death of a women, murdered by a man, was described poorly by a newspaper.  The headline removes the perpetrator from the action. More…

Front page drug testing article is marketing Reply

An article last week touched briefly on the issue of the effect of synthetic drugs in the workplace in the context of drug and alcohol testing.  The Australian newspaper on 28 September 2015 contained a front page article (paywalled) about mining company concerns over synthetic drugs at work, however it is an article that deserves greater analysis before anyone considers this as part of an evidence base as it is creatively constructed and relies on statements from a toxicologist working for drug testing laboratory. More…

Professional sportspeople are workers, so make them safe 1

Player Reaches To Catch Ball In Australian Rules Football GameThere is no doubt that football fields are the workplaces of professional football players and their support staff. So they are covered by occupational health and safety (OHS) and/or work health and safety (WHS) laws but what does this mean in relation to OHS regulators, and the sportspeople’s employers? Recently Eric Windholz looked at this particular issue.

Windholz recently published “Professional Sport, Work Health and Safety Law and Reluctant Regulators” in which he states:

“The application of WHS law to professional sport is almost absent from practitioner and academic discourse. An examination of the websites of Australia’s WHS and sport regulators reveals none contains WHS guidance directed to professional sports.” (page 1, references are included in the paper)

The example he uses to show this apparent lack of interest, even by the Victorian OHS regulator, WorkSafe Victoria, is the Essendon Football Club supplements saga.  Windholz writes

“Had these events occurred in the construction, manufacturing or transport industry, for example, it is difficult to imagine WHS regulators not intervening. Yet, WorkSafe Victoria initially was reluctant to investigate choosing to defer to ‘more appropriate bodies’. It only commenced an investigation when compelled by a request from a member of the public.” (page 2)


Inquiry into precarious/insecure work includes OHS Reply

2015 has been a big year for public attention on the exploitation of workers.  In May, the Four Corners program revealed the exploitation of, largely, migrant or illegal workers in the food processing and vegetable growing sectors.  In the last month, 7Eleven workers have featured, also after a Four Corners investigation in conjunction with Fairfax Media.  In both cases, workplace safety has been mentioned but not featured.

In September 2015, the Victorian (Labor) Government released the terms of reference (ToR) for its inquiry into labour hire and insecure work and occupational health and safety (OHS) gains a mention. The final report is due by July 2016. It is now up to the OHS profession and its advocates to emphasis OHS’ important role in the industrial relations of vulnerable workers. More…

Quad bike safety discussion is maturing 2

New research into quad bike safety by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) shows increasing maturity in the discussions on the safety of quad bikes and farms. According to a 2 September report on Australian ABC radio, more attention is now needed for quadbike rider’s actions, workplace conditions and choices.

The attention on the suitability and design of quad bikes has dominated the safety debate over the last few years.  There is no doubt that the design of quadbikes could have been made safer, or that new vehicle models offer better stability or that Operator Protection Devices (OPDs) offer a safety improvement.

The focus on riders has been almost exclusively about “active riding” techniques and the use and suitability of personal protective equipment, such as helmets. More…

More care needed in discussing workplace mental health and mental illness 2

Writing about workplace mental health is a tricky task.  An article recently posted to Business News Western Australia shows how tricky it can be and how mental health can be misinterpreted as mental illness.

The headline, “Are you one of the 20% of workers that will experience a mental health issue?” clearly refers to workers but the first sentence of the article does not.  “Australian adults” are not all “workers”.

Out of the total population of around 24 million Australians, Wikipedia estimates the working-age population of Australia (15 – 64 years) at round 67% (16 million, approximately). If we apply these statistics to the headline, there are 3.2 million workers who “will experience a mental health issue”. But is this annually, over one’s working life or over a lifetime? The article does not say.

Not only are the statistics messy, so is the terminology. More…

Old school OHS in mining Reply

Cover of RP_SeriousInjuryReportMINING2015In August 2015, Western Australia’s Department of Mines & Petroleum (DMP) released a statistical analysis that seems to do little more than confirm what is already known.  It is important to validate data but the mining sector often promotes itself as leading in occupational health and safety (OHS) but this report seems dull and dated. More…

5 experts in 60 minutes Reply

Host: ISCRR's Jason Thompson

Host: ISCRR’s Jason Thompson

The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has tried a new format for its occupational health and safety (OHS) seminars.  It is not a lunch with a single presenter and it is not a Three-Minute Thesis.  It is five safety researchers in one hour, seven minutes per person and a single question from the floor – and it worked. More…