One of the most contentious issues in Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) profession at the moment is the move by the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA)to certify the profession. In the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Health Safety and Environment, Warwick Pearse, Laura McCosker and Gunther Paul researched the SIA’s “professional project” and found it seriously wanting.
The paper “Reflection on the SIA Ltd professional project and the Body of Knowledge” states that the project
“…has the potential to promote a narrow technical view of OHS rather than a wider view which encompasses societal relations of power and politics.”
“The use of the BoK [Body of Knowledge] as a key element in the professional project has the potential to represent OHS as a unified system of knowledge — which it is not.” [link added]
The Cancer Council of Western Australia has released a report (not yet available online)that states:
“The number of occupationally caused cancers compensated each year equates to less than eight per cent of the expected number.” (Executive Summary)
This is an extraordinary statistic but consistent with the history of occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics where the core data originates from compensation figures rather than incident figures. Cancer has always been a challenge in this area as it can manifest years after exposure or not at all. But this report also provides important data, and a challenge, for OHS professionals and business owners as
“Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.” (Executive Summary)
The report has an excellent discussion on why such statistics are estimates and the unreliability of previous data in Australia and overseas but there is only a short, but important, discussion about risk and hazard controls – the principle focus for OHS professionals. More…
One of the most significant motivators for changes in safety leadership in the executive circles in Australia has been the obligation to apply due diligence to occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. The obligation has existed for several years now but is still dominated by legal interpretations rather than managerial ones. To support the legal obligations, OHS professionals should look at how they can add value to due diligence. One way of achieving, and exceeding, compliance of due diligence would be to subject OHS systems and strategies to a peer-review rather than a narrow audit process. More…
The media’s focus on standing desks continues in Australia with the PM radio program on 7 May 15 stating:
“If you thought those standing desks, and even the newer treadmill desks, were a fad, think again.”
This compounds the continuing distraction from organisational causes to individual adaptability and encourages short-term thinking on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.
The radio program built a report around some very useful research data released by the Heart Foundation which, amongst other findings, stated:
“More than one in two Australian workers reported that they do not do enough physical activity to be healthy. In fact, one in four Australian workers does very little or no physical activity at all. The most common reasons Australian workers are not physical active is due to lack of time, a lack of enjoyment when doing physical activity or simply would prefer to do other things than undertaking physical activity.”
Sedentary behaviour is an acknowledged risk factor in various chronic diseases and the Heart Foundation should be commended for providing further evidence. But there is no mention of standing desks in the Foundation’s media release or supplementary information. More…
On 7 May 2015, Senator Doug Cameron (Australian Labor Party, pictured) launched a new book written by John Bottomley (pictured, centre) called “Hard Work Never Killed Anybody – How the idolisation of work sustains this deadly lie“. Cameron acknowledged the uniqueness of the book as ranging
“…across, theology, Marxism, the Protestant work ethic, and the Enlightenment.”
This combination is rare in the field of occupational health and safety but Cameron said that Bottomley provides evidence that
“…the promise of industrialised society that hard work brings its own rewards is a lie”
and that this is a necessary and important challenge to the current political consensus. More…
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.