When looking to understand psychosocial issues, ask your grandparents 4

In February 2010, the New York Times ran an article about depression by Jonah Lehrer.  The same article appeared in some of Australia’s weekend newspapers in early March.  Lehrer looks at the issue of depression and considers whether there is a potential upside to the disorder by looking back as far as Charles Darwin for expressions of depression.  He makes a challenging statement:

“…that depression has a secret purpose and our medical interventions are making a bad situation even worse.  Like a fever that helps the immune system fight off infection — increased body temperature sends white blood cells into overdrive — depression might be an unpleasant yet adaptive response to affliction.”

Lehrer goes on to make a case for depression being a possible source of creativity.

He refers extensively to the evolutionary psychology research of Andy Thomson and Paul Andrews who acknowledge that

“… depression is a vast continuum, a catch-all term for a spectrum of symptoms.”

Perhaps, particularly in the relatively recent consideration of depression in workplaces, we are being too narrow and too specific.  Perhaps the case for workplace depression being made by some of the “depression sellers” is too targeted and we need to remind ourselves of the sociology of work, a perspective that seems to have gone out of fashion. More…

Workplace bullying data from Denmark 1

In occupational health and safety (OHS) and other workplace research, Scandinavia is often quoted.   The application of research findings to other nations is of dubious value but often Scandinavian research provides clues to potential OHS hazards or control options.

In February 2010, the European Working Conditions Observatory published online a research report into workplace bullying.  The report says

“Investigating the impact of bullying on psychological stress reactions according to the Impact of Event Scale, the NFA study finds that negative acts which potentially isolate the individual at the workplace, acts directed towards the person and unreasonable workloads induce most psychological stress.” More…

Some families in South Australia blame WorkCover for their partners’ suicides 27

In January 2010, Today Tonight in South Australia aired a disturbing report about the workers compensation reforms in that State.  It talks to two widows who blame WorkCover SA as contributing to their husbands’ suicides.  One man left a suicide note explicitly blaming WorkCover SA, emphasising his point by jumping to his death from the sixth floor of the WorkCover office building.

The video report is available HERE under the title WorkCover Suicide.

One of those interviewed in the story is Kevin Purse who undertook a report into the SA workers’ compensation system on behalf of SA Unions.   More…

US report is aimed at the wrong workplace safety target 2

A media release from Utah in the United States has been circulating through the internet overnight that claims:

“A new study released today by VitalSmarts found that five threats to workers’ safety are commonly left undiscussed and lead to avoidable injury or fatalities.” [link added]

The release lists those five threats as:

  • “Get It Done. Unsafe practices that are justified by tight deadlines.
  • Undiscussable (sic) Incompetence. Unsafe practices that stem from skill deficits that can’t be discussed. More…

Risk assessment report – insulation 1

Risk assessments are crucial for operating a safety management system built on consultation with employees and relevant experts.  This should be borne in mind over the next few days while the Australian Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, continues to be grilled over what he knew about the risks associated with the government’s insulation scheme and when he knew.

In terms of workplace safety, the Minter Ellison report says little of direct relevance.   More…

Promising work flexibility and health research doesn’t go anywhere Reply

“A new evidence review* suggests that giving employees more flexibility over their work schedules is likely to boost their health as judged by measures like blood pressure and stress. But interventions that are motivated or dictated by the needs of the employer, such as cutting hours, either have no effect on employee health or make it worse.

“Control at work is good for health,” said review co-author Clare Bambra, a researcher at Durham University, in England. “Given the absence of ill health effects associated with employee-controlled flexibility and the evidence of some positive improvements in some health outcomes,” Bambra said, more flexibility in work schedules “has the potential to promote healthier workplaces and improve work practices.”

The above quote indicates that new evidence may help all of us in assessing the benefits or otherwise of allowing employees to telework, or of readjusting work practices to improve health and safety at work.


an article issued in support of the research clearly identifies the risks of drawing almost any firm conclusions from the evidence other than that more research is required: More…

Asbestos awareness high. Safety? Not so Reply

On 15 February 2010 Safe Work Australia (SWA) released a report entitled “Asbestos Exposure and Compliance Study of Construction and Maintenance Workers“.

It found, according to the SWA media release:

  • “Most tradespersons were aware of the potential health risks of asbestos.
  • This high level of general awareness is not accompanied by the knowledge of how to recognise asbestos or control the risks when working with it.   More…

Biomarkers for musculoskeletal disorders 1

Slips, trips and falls are often the neglected “bastard son” of occupational health and safety but the can cripple and can, literally cost an arm or a leg.

The traditional approach to control these hazards have been to make  the working environment safer by mopping up spilled liquids, for instance, or be using a piece of equipment such as a stepladder, or in the long-term or in the beginning of a project, to design out hazards.

We also know that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) make occur suddenly, and dramatically and painfully, but one’s body has accumulated weaknesses over time.  The UK’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has released a research report that indicates a new approach to MSDs or at least a start. More…

Don’t get sidetracked by depression marketing 2

Over the last couple of months, SafetyAtWorkBlog has written several articles on the psychosocial workplace hazard of depression, stress and anxiety.

Science Friday is a regular feature of the NPR  program, Talk of the Nation in the United States.  Last Friday, it focussed on depression.  Its speakers talked about how the diagnosis of depression has changed over the decades, sometimes to match the range of depression medications available.

Importantly there is a differentiation between depression and mental health. (Psychosocial disorders doesn’t seem to be a term used outside of OHS)  Depression is slowly becoming the collective term for sad, melancholy, unhappy, miserable, anxious……….  It is very important for workplace safety professionals to try to pierce the fug of depression marketing so that one is not distracted into the trap of treating workers for a personal problem rather than preventing the hazard through changing organisational attitudes. More…

Okay, I don’t smell but am I safe? 2

King Gee recently released a range of work clothing that is manufactured using a technique that reduces the wearer’s body odour.   A sample was sent to SafetyAtWorkBlog unrequested.   For those tradespeople with a body odour issue, the clothing may be a godsend, maybe more so for the people they have to work with.   The new clothing has received at least one media mention.

The issue that has stopped me from wearing the sample shirt is that the “odour-killing” properties are due to a process of:

“…. engineering molecules at the nanoscale …[that] transforms the very fibers of the fabric to provide unsurpassed odour elimination.”

Nanotechnology is a recent technology that is being applied widely but without a detailed consideration of the possible health effects to the user, the environment and to those who manufacture nano-materials. More…