Over the last week Australian media has been reporting on office workers using standing workstations. Given sedentary working has been shown to have negative health effects, standing seems sensible as it increases mobility but is it enough to stand? Or is this recent media attention just another example of shallow writing on occupational health and safety matters, or even media manipulation?
An article in the Canberra Times (which appeared in other Fairfax publications around 17 April 2015) states that:
“…health and ergonomics experts say the benefits to overall health for standing-up workers is irrefutable..”
“Some also believe it makes workers more productive…”
The article then quotes the head of office supplies and furniture from an office furniture retailer, Jim Berndells of Officeworks. Its next expert is another retailer of furniture, Office Workstations and its managing director Jovan Vucetic. The attention granted to these retailers along with a mention of the price of a standing workstation and the companies that Vucetic has supplied, seems to imply that the article is less about OHS than about product information.
(It may be relevant that Vucetic’s LinkedIn profile shows that in 2012 he was running an Ebay company and that he continues to operate JOVAN Imedia, which he describes as an “affiliate marketing business”, alongside his workstations business.) More…
Many OHS professionals state that leadership is a crucial element to establishing a safety culture and then support this with examples of positive leadership. But some people fail at leadership and failure is often more instructional than success. Recently the CEO of Orica, Ian Smith, had to resign after his abusive manner resulted in the resignations of two employees. This is bad enough but when the Board hired Smith around three years earlier, the Board saw his manner as attractive. If leadership is crucial to a safety culture, what does this say about Orica’s decisions?
The Chanticleer column of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) wrote on March 24 2015 (paywalled):
“The board’s determination to have Smith shake Orica to its foundations was so great it allowed him to destroy staff engagement and walk all over the company’s culture of mutual respect. What is so bewildering about this deliberately aggressive and occasionally bullying change management strategy is that it was endorsed by a range of respected non-executive directors…..”
Recently I spoke at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur. The summit or rather a conference had around 50 delegates and was held in a small conference room in a good hotel near the centre of the city. The delegates were from a range of industries – maritime, power generation, construction and others. I learnt that there was much that Westerners could share with Malaysian OHS professionals but that the sharing would be much quicker and more meaningful if we knew more about the Asian situation before proposing our suggestions and solutions. More…
A common theme throughout presentations at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur was the need to communicate safety and health clearly and concisely to variety of nationalities with a variety of literacy levels. My presentation aimed at reminding the OHS professional delegates that they may already have skills that they could use in communicating safety issues to their audience or workers and contractors.
Every culture has stories. Stories have been the dominant way of teaching for centuries but we are gradually losing some of our innate storytelling skills or we do not see how they may be relevant to the workplace. OHS professionals could benefit from redeveloping those skills and also encouraging those skills in others. Stories can be a base for teaching,listening and, in OHS parlance, consultation.
Quite often people in business talk about “the story” without really appreciating the complexity of storytelling, or the power of storytelling. Here are two quotes about stories that I plucked from a marketing brochure:
“The story is what drives the bond between the company and the consumer.”
“Stories can be used to communicate visions and values, to strengthen company culture, to manage the company through change and to share knowledge across the organisation.”*
There is some truth in these quotes but the purpose of the quotes undermine their value. The book these are from discusses storytelling in terms of branding and advertising, in other words the purposeful manipulation of people’s desires. For marketing and advertising is the sector where storytelling has been most effective in supporting the selling of products and the selling of ideas.
Barry Naismith has followed up his first report into WorkSafe with a second that analyses the workplace deaths in Victoria since 1985.
One of the attractions of Naismith’s analyses is that he considers the broader context to the data. His first report looked at WorkSafe Victoria’s actions and policies in relation to the executive and board complexion. In this report he looks at the frequency of deaths with WorkSafe campaigns and enforcement response.
The analysis may not have the authority of a fully-funded research program from an academic institution but the level of detail he has collected from official sources is impressive, and in the absence of any other analysis, Naismith’s work deserves serious attention.
In 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed the first edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide. CCH Wolters Kluwer has released its second edition and, sadly, it repeats many of the criticisms in the 2012 review.
The title of Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (2nd ed) seems inaccurate if one considers a book with “master ” in its title to be a “masterwork”. This is not a masterwork and the publishers have emphasised to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the book was never intended to be. The book is intended to be a brief outline of the most important contemporary occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in Australia and to provide practical advice, checklists and templates. In fact, the word that should be focussed on in the title is “guide”.
The publishers advised that “master” is in the title to indicate it is part of its “Master Series“, a “brilliant” series described as
“Australia’s premium range of professional books, widely accepted as the leaders in their fields.”
SafetyAtWorkBlog looked at a couple of chapters to assess the quality of the content. As workplace bullying is such a contentious issue. the Bullying and Violence chapter was a focus. There were a surprising number of omissions in this chapter. More…
Safe Work Australia recently released its second research paper related to developing or communicating a business case for occupational health and safety (OHS). The paper has been authored by Sharron O’Neill and is called “The Business Case for Safe, Healthy and Productive Work – Implications for resource allocation: Procurement, Contracting and infrastructure decisions“. O’Neill’s paper clearly challenges the dominant thinking of OHS and costs.
O’Neill states that the quality of previous analyses of OHS business costs have been “fundamentally poor”, partly because
“Rather than strategically examining the cost-benefit to business of work health and safety, the typical ‘silo’-driven analysis produces a narrow focus on a very different concept; the cost-benefit to business of health and safety interventions. This has obscured much of the potential for improving organisational productivity and operational decision-making.” (page 4, link added)
I have been invited to speak at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur in March 2015. My presentation will focus on safety communications. My blurb in the conference program lists the following points:
- “Ways of Seeing” – the importance of John Berger’s work
- The importance of language in the reframing of Safety
- Writing about safety as a professional development tool
- Safety leadership and classical literature
- Embracing the importance of stories
I am in the midst of finalising my presentation and would welcome any input or stories from SafetyAtWorkBlog readers to assist me. Use the link below to contact me directly.
The Australian Government has announced an inquiry into workplace relations through the Productivity Commission (PC). The most obvious occupational health and safety (OHS) element of this inquiry relates to workplace bullying which is discussed in the fourth of five issues papers released in January 2015. However the purposeful separation of workplace bullying actions through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from actions in other sectors, such as OHS regulators, limits the potential impact of the inquiry on this issue.
The PC issues paper acknowledges the lack of the anticipated avalanche of anti-bullying applications and accepts that the structure of the FWC process may be partially responsible. This lack of applications, an issue discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, deserves further research and analysis. The FWC structure only allows applications from workers currently employed in the workplace about which they are complaining. It can be argued that the inability of the FWC to award financial compensation is an equal deterrent. If this is the case (and, as far as can be determined, this aspect has not been investigated) the motivation of anti-bullying applicants to FWC and OHS regulators may involve natural justice AND compensation. The role of money in bullying complaints and applications has been a taboo subject in the past but deserves some analysis, even though it may be very uncomfortable. More…
Professor Michael Quinlan has a new book that focuses on lessons from recent mining disasters but, as with the best of occupational health and safety (OHS) books, it challenges orthodoxies. Some OHS consultants and experts have built careers on these orthodoxies, trends and fads, and will feel uncomfortable with the evidence put forward by Quinlan in “Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster – Learning from Fatal Incidents in Mines and Other High Hazard Workplaces“. The honesty and humanity in this book makes it an essential part of any OHS professional’s library.
Quinlan establishes an important tenet from the very start:
“… knowledge is not created in a social vacuum.” (page xi)
This simple dictum is vital to an understanding of the true causal factors on OHS decision-making. People die from OHS failures. Politicians create laws and situations that can encourage failures, increase risk and can provide a veneer of respect for heartlessness and exploitation. Business owners may feel pressured to place production before safety. Some OHS writers and advocates stop, often unconsciously, at the point where their theory or market research would fail scrutiny. Some apply critical thought only “as far as is reasonably practicable” to continue a business activity that is short-term or to sell their consultancy package to gullible or naive corporate executives.
Quinlan writes of the “political economy of safety”:
“The political economy perspective argues that safety, including workplace disasters, can only be understood in the context of the distribution of wealth and power within societies, and dominant social policy paradigms that privilege markets and profit, production or economic growth over safety.” (page 24, emphasis added)
To many readers this may sound like socialism in its mention of wealth distribution and power but such a perspective is valid even though it may be unfashionable. Such a broad perspective allows for a critical assessment of other OHS research approaches such as, for instance, the culture advocates. More…