Fixing what is broken 1

WorkCover in South Australia has released a discussion paper for public comment on 9 November 2009.  The paper is called “Consultation on a new framework for employer incentives” and poses the following questions:

  • Do you think there should be any financial incentives for employers in relation to workers rehabilitation and compensation?
  • What do you think about the proposed design principles?
  • Do you have any specific ideas for employer incentives that encourage return to work?

cover Employer incentivesThis discussion paper is part of the review process by the WorkCover Corporation and should be supported.  Public comments close on 18 December 2009.

The paper itself has some points of considerable interest.  The existing incentive scheme is called a Bonus/Penalty Scheme which has existed for almost 20 years.  PricewaterhouseCoopers undertook a review and below are the findings, according to WorkCover:

“WorkCover has been working with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of the Bonus/Penalty Scheme in South Australia.  Only very weak links were found between the Bonus/Penalty rate and claim outcomes.  No evidence was found to suggest that the Bonus/Penalty Scheme has delivered better health and safety outcomes for workers in South Australia.”

That last sentence seems to be a phenomenally honest statement about a scheme that has existed since 1990, been so persistent and continues to be so popular with employers.  Such forthrightness from a government authority about one of its own programs is rare.

At some point in the past there may have been some logic in the scheme as similar elements existed under the WorkCare scheme in Victoria many years ago.  But since the preventative arm, Safe Work SA, split from WorkCover around 2005, the incentive scheme has not sat comfortably with the government’s RTW focus.

The discussion paper goes on to state:

“WorkCover has not seen much evidence that the Bonus/Penalty Scheme has either reduced injury rates or made workplaces safer.  If anything it appears to have had some adverse side-effects, such as encouraging stakeholders to focus excessively on claim costs, the claim costs ‘window’ and coding, instead of return to work.”

Regardless of pointing out the difference between “no evidence” and “much evidence”, WorkCover’s comments illustrate a reality that OHS and RTW professionals have been wrestling with for years, companies have been encouraged to focus on financial cost of Return-To-Work rather than on the injured worker.

As part of WorkCover’s analysis of the existing incentive scheme, it undertook a literature review on experience ratings systems and found the following

“There were some noteworthy findings about experience rating systems, for example:

  • there is no clear consensus that they have reduced injury rates or made workplaces safer;
  • they have created perverse motivations, for example to suppress claims, dispute the coding of claims, or only focus on reducing claims within the ‘experience window’;
  • they may reduce claim numbers but not average claim costs, and average claim severity tends to increase – this is further evidence that the reporting of small claims is sometimes ‘suppressed’; and
  • there is no obvious link between experience rating bonuses/penalties and an employer’s commitment to safety and return to work.”

The Productivity Commission in 2004 (as discussed in Alan Clayton’s workers compensation review for the Tasmanian Government) recommended experience ratings for large employers as a contributor to the full funding of workers compensation schemes. ( p.44)  It is strongly suggested that those wanting to comment on this South Australian WorkCover paper should closely look at the recent changes to workers’ compensation made by the Tasmanian Government.

But it is not all gloom and doom as WorkCover SA has set the parameters for the next scheme.  In the discussion paper, they list 11 proposed design principles for consideration:

  • Focus on return to work
  • Be affordable and sustainable
  • Have a direct and substantial effect
  • Target the right employers
  • Tailor to specific employer groups
  • Loss matters
  • Be simple to explain and run
  • Use a mix of solutions
  • Capitalise on the tools and resources we already have
  • Be transparent
  • Use an evidence-based approach

In anticipation of the Federal Government’s plans to harmonise workers compensation once OHS is out of the way, such discussion papers, reviews and, more importantly, the public submissions, may provide some clues to how Australia workers compensation and RTW programs may look in ten years time.

Kevin Jones

How to make positive training programs attractive to OHS professionals 2

Yesterday’s article on positive training programs and behaviour-based safety (BBS) has generated a great deal of interest and attention.

The article’s title should maybe have specified the “OHS context”.   Like with Return-To-Work, OHS professionals need BBS and positive training to be explained to their understanding so they see how it fits with their own safety management systems.    They need to have their own “light-bulb moment on the relevance of the training not be convinced of the need by a sales person.

HR professionals may be more receptive to positive training concepts because they are more familiar with the psych babble but OHS still has engineering as the basis for the profession.   Only in the last 10 years have OHS professionals accepted (not universally) the legitimacy of psychosocial hazards and that, primarily, because the OHS regulators released guidance on the hazards.

Don’t try to apply leadership and training to OHS through HR because the jargon confuses.  Introduce yourself to some OHS people and listen to them talk of their profession.  Research the attitudes of the OHS people directly.  Do not rely on external research surveys as it is more important for you to understand OHS people than for a survey to report “47% of OHS professionals think resilience training programs are twaddle”.

Once you have listened, go personally to other OHS professionals and practitioners with training programs that can be readily integrated into safety management systems.  Don’t expect your potential clients to exert effort to understand you, it’s your job to understand them.

And don’t expect a quick decision.  Good OHS professionals will ask their colleagues and peers what they think of your programs and concepts before getting back to you.  They may even approach their OHS associations for an opinion.

iStockphotos evangelist

Past approaches to OHS professionals on BBS and similar training have been embarrassing.  One notable BBS advocate from the US spoke around five years ago to about 400 OHS people in Australia.  At morning tea time around half left the (expensive) seminar convinced that BBS was a crock.  That advocate is still highly regarded in the US but Australians just didn’t “get it”.

Slapping up a couple of pictures of the Sydney Opera House in a presentation, or  walking the room like an evangelist, does more harm than good.  Come prepared and prepared to listen and the OHS professional may “get it”…..even just a little bit.

Kevin Jones

Where is the evidence of OHS misuse for IR purposes? 1

The mainstream press has dipped into some of the submissions to the Australian Government on its harmonisation of OHS laws.  Kirsty Needham reports on the submissions in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Needham reports on basically the submissions of the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Australian Council of Trade Unions – the ideological opposites on safety regulation.  She quotes ACCI’s David Gregory:

“There is no doubt that health and safety has been used as an industrial relations issue on plenty of occasions … we want to put reasonable boundaries around those entitlements.”

cover V01Summary_PressFinalThis position is always attached as a myth by the unions but it is an accepted fact in the minds of employers, OHS professionals and many workers.  The Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry in 2003 found that

“in the building and construction industry throughout Australia, there is…..widespread use of occupational health and safety as an industrial tool.”

“The types of inappropriate conduct which exist throughout the building and construction industry include….the use by a union of occupational, health and safety (OH&S) issues as an industrial tool, intermingled with legitimate OH&S issues;”

“Occupational health and safety is often misused by unions as an industrial tool.  This trivialises safety, and deflects attention away from real problems.  Unions have a legitimate interest in the safety of their members.  This should not be altered.  However, the scope for misuse of safety must be reduced and if possible eliminated.”

“Misuse of non-existent occupational health and safety issues for industrial purposes is rife in the building and construction industry.  Genuine occupational health and safety hazards are also rife.”

A major source of evidence for the repeated statement of fact is mentioned in the final report from February 2003 was an “OH&S case study (Tas).”.  SafetyAtWorkBlog is trying to obtain more details on this.

One example of the evidence that is readily available relates again to the Royal Commission.  The Commission undertook an investigation into industrial disputes a the construction site of The Age newspaper in Tullamarine.  The Commission reports

“the evidence from Mr Judson [Wayne Judson is a Director of Probuild] will be that during the negotiation of the project agreement (which was a period where any industrial action between Probuild and the unions would have been unprotected) there were many occasions when safety walks and OH&S issues were used as a device by the unions to pressure Probuild and Fairfax to agree to the project agreement and nominated shop stewards.

The potential misuse of OH&S raised, not of course for the first time in this Commission, is a very serious matter. To misuse OH&S debases the currency of safety. ‘Crying Wolf’ often enough on enough sites creates the risk that no one knows whether a safety claim is about something real and important or whether it is simply a means of supporting the latest industrial demand.”

Some of Commissioner Cole’s comments on the debasement of safety are sound but the “evidence” is from the builder and may not constitute the reality, only opinion in a submission to an investigative body.  The Commissioner carefully labels the issue “a potential misuse”.

SafetyAtWorkBlog would say that the fact of misuse of OHS issues for industrial purposes may be an example of the establishment of a fact through “crying wolf”, to use the Commissioner’s term.  The frequent statement of a belief does not establish a fact.

Also, to some extent, the construction industry hogs the OHS limelight in much of the tripartite consultation.  This is because of the industrially charged nature of construction in Australia and the fact that construction sites are usually highly visible to public.  The construction industry is an important economic driver but perhaps this prominence is masking some of the other OHS issues that the Government needs to consider.

As the Australian Government proceeds in its harmonisation of OHS laws and as it reads the hundreds of public submissions, there should be a red flag on each mention of the misuse of OHS for industrial purposes so that assertions are not misread as facts.

Kevin Jones

Behavioural-based safety put into context 6

Yesterday Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne spoke at the monthly networking meeting of the Central Safety Group in Australia.  His presentation was based around his research into job stress and its relationship with mental health.

LaMontagne was talking about the dominant position in personnel management where negative thoughts generate a negative working environment, one of stress, dissatisfaction and lower productivity.  SafetyAtWorkBlog asked whether this was the basis for many of the positive attitudinal programs, or behaviour-based safety programs, that are frequently spruiked to the modern corporations.

He said that this was the case and that such programs can have a positive affect on people’s attitudes to work.  But LaMontagne then expressed one of those ideas that can only come from outside an audience’s general field of expertise.  He said that the limitations of such programs are that they focus on the individual in isolation from their work.  He wondered how successful such a program will be in the long-term if a worker returns from a “happiness class” to a persistently large workload or excessive hours.  The benefits of the positive training are likely to be short-lived.

This presented the suggestion that positive training programs, those professing resilience, leadership, coping skills and a range of other psychological synonyms, may be the modern equivalent of “blaming the worker”.  The big risk of this approach to safety is that it ignores the relationship of the worker with the surrounding work environment and management resources and policies.  Even the worker who is furthest from head office does not work in isolation.

It is unclear what the positive training programs aim to achieve.  Teaching coping skills provides the worker with ways of coping with work pressures, but what if those pressures are unfair or unreasonable?  What if those pressures included bullying, harassment, excessive workloads?  Will the employer be meeting their OHS obligations for a safe and healthy working environment by having workers who can cope with these hazards rather than addressing those hazards themselves?

Professor LaMontagne reminded the OHS professionals in attendance yesterday that the aim of OHS is to eliminate the hazards and not to accommodate them.  He asked whether an OHS professional would be doing their job properly if they only handed out earplugs and headphones rather than try to make the workplace quieter?

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog received an email about a new stress management program that involves “performance enhancement, changing the way people view corporate team dynamics”.  Evidence was requested on the measurable success of the program.  No evidence on the program was available but one selling point was that the company had lots of clients.  This type of stress management sales approach came to mind when listening to Professor Montagne.

When preparing to improve the safety performance of one’s company consider the whole of the company’s operations and see what OHS achievements may be possible.  Think long-term for structural and organisational change and resist the solutions that have the advantage of being visible to one’s senior executives but short on long-term benefits.

And be cautious of the type of approaches one may receive along the lines of programs that can change

“…high performance habits so employees can operate at 100% engagement and take their achievement to the next level while achieving a healthier culture in the workplace”.

Kevin Jones

Note: Kevin Jones is a life member of the Central Safety Group.  The CSG is just finalising its website ( information of forthcoming meetings will be available.

Australia’s employers’ thoughts on OHS law 2

The public submission period for commenting on the Australia’s OHS model laws has closed and the submissions are gradually being made available on the Safe Work Australia website.

At the time of writing there are around 15 submissions listed and Safe Work Australia has indicated that there are many more that are being sifted through at the moment.

Each submission had the option for the comments to be confidential.  Confidential submitters told SafetyAtWorkBlog that one reason for confidentiality was so that their comments did not reflect on their current employer.  This is understandable but also adds an allure to the submission.  It will be interesting to note which of the large associations apply confidentiality to their submissions.

One employer association who is “loud and proud” of their submission is the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  The ACCI submission is currently available only from its website.  Below is what the ACCI’s Director of Workplace Policy, David Gregory,  says in a media statement that accompanied the release of the submission

“…[Gregory ] has rejected union claims that business groups are pushing for changes that would reduce health and safety rights for workers.

ACCI also urged Australia’s governments to work towards a truly uniform national OHS system with respect to the approach by OHS inspectors, regulators and the courts.”

“Employers want a model Act that delivers both improved workplace safety outcomes and an effective legislative framework that will encourage employers and workers to be proactive and collaborative in improving the safety of their workplaces.  Unnecessary prescription will ultimately serve only to distract and discourage both employers and employees from delivering safer workplaces.  ACCI has provided some positive suggestions in its submission that should be adopted to improve the operation of the Act.”

ACCI has strongly backed the reinstatement of a definition of ‘due diligence’ in the model Act, as the absence of a definition will mean that company officers will be unclear about their duty and how compliance may be achieved.

Employers have also identified a number of aspects of the model OHS Act which are open to potential misuse such as union right of entry, persons assisting health and safety representatives, and procedures for establishing multi-employer workgroups, which require redrafting to ensure that they are fair and balanced and do not undermine the safety objectives of the Act.

ACCI in its submission advocates that the maximum penalty for a corporation under the Act should be set at the current Australian maximum of $1.65 million, arguing that the proposed $3 million maximum will simply fuel a litigious and compliance-based approach to OHS.

Gregory’s first point addresses ideology more than anything else.  The trade union movement will always be suspicious and uncomfortable with any organisation that is willing to put productivity before safety.  The introduction of  the ACCI submission makes it clear that the focus of the submission is not on improving safety but on improving the management of safety, two very different OHS approaches.

Queensland labour history coverRecently a new book from Federation Press, “Work and Strife in Paradise“,  a history of labour in Queensland illustrated how industrial harmony existed in that state for decades prior to the introduction of Robens-style legislation.  For a long time unions and employer groups knew where they stood ideologically and therefore could anticipate responses and could negotiate from stable philosophical platforms.  The industrial relations changes from the 1960s onwards complicated negotiations which did have some impact on OHS in that State.

[For the first time, to SafetyAtWorkBlog's knowledge, a chapter is included in a labour relations book on research into employer associations.]

One would have to expect a definition of “due diligence” to be included in the upcoming OHS Act is the employers are in favour of this.  The consensus in many OHS seminars is that such a definition is required.

The concerns over union rights is a hoary chestnut that has not been seen as a problem in Victoria where many of the suggested legislative features have originated.

The issue of penalties is a little hollow.  Many corporate executives are covered by Directors’ & Officers’ Liability insurance as much as is possible.  And fines do not generate litigation. The neglect of obligations and duties lead to prosecution and then penalties.

The ACCI submission states more clearly that

“…OHS breaches should generally be subject to civil rather than criminal penalties. Such an approach should be taken for the entire model OHS Act and not just selectively applied to aspects such as breaches in relation to union right of entry.”

It would interesting to know what ACCI’s position is on non-financial penalty options.

The impression obtained from the ACCI statement and submission is that they were principally intended for the audience of the ACCI membership.  ACCI has a seat at the Safe Work Australia Council discussion table through its representative Annette Bellamy.  It is suggested that it is here where the conservative and capitalist arguments on OHS laws will be put.

Kevin Jones

Asbestos is an example of immoral economic growth 1

The financial newspapers often refere to a BRIC group of countries or, rather, economies.  This stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China and is used to describe the forecasted economic powerhouses for this century.  But there is also the risk of economic growth without morality.  India is a case in point and asbestos can be an example.

Pages from india_asb_time_bombThe health hazards of asbestos have been established for decades but only officially acknowledged more recently.  One would expect that when some countries ban the import, export and manufacture of a product that other countries may suspect that something may be amiss.

In the introduction to the September 2008 book “India’s Asbestos Time Bomb” Laurie Kazan-Allen writes

“Historically the burden of industrial pollution has reached the developing world much faster than the fruits of industrial growth” writes Dr. Sanjay Chaturvedi.  This statement is well illustrated by the evolution of the asbestos industry in India.  In the frantic rush for economic development, there has been a pervasive lack of concern for the health of workers and the contamination of the environment.  Sacrificing the lives of the few for the “good” of the many, the Indian Government has knowingly colluded in this sad state of affairs.”

Kazan-Allen is a longtime campaigner on asbestos.  In 2001 she put this question to the Canadian Medical  Association Journal.

“Chrysotile has caused and is continuing to cause disease and death worldwide. It is hypocritical for Canada to continue to produce chrysotile when it is not prepared to use it domestically. If chrysotile is unsuitable for Canadian lungs, how does it become suitable for Korean, Indian and Japanese lungs?”

A foundation of public health and workplace safety management is that bad practices, immoral practices, are corrected, not accommodated.  At some point the exploitation of others for the financial betterment of a few must end. Could that lead to a “compassionate capitalism” or is that just another term for “socialism”?  These semantics are being argued at the moment in the United States over health care but the question needs to be asked globally, just as it is on climate change and on the financial markets.

The global implications of poor OHS management and practices needs to be placed on the policy agenda not only of the ILO, United Nations and trade union movement, but the business groups, and professional associations who need to develop their social charters.  If those voices are not added to the debate, safety will also be a fringe issue and it is too important for that.

Kevin Jones

EHS workshop report and Australian nanoparticles reports Reply

In October 2009 a workshop was held on worker safety by the  Worker Education and Training Program (WETP), a part of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.  Many of the topics raised in the workshop – REACH, Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, and nanotechnology would be issues or hazards familiar to most SafetyAtWorkBlog readers.

EffectivenessReport coverThis report on the workshop, released in November 2009, is highlighted here because it is a very good example of a basic report on a workshop that makes the reader regret that they couldn’t be there.  This respond encourages readers to make the extra effort for the next set of workshops – a major benefit of such reports and, sometimes, the main reason.

The mention 0f nanotechnology is a good link to two new reports on the issue released by Safe Work Australia on 4 November 2009.

Engineered nanomaterials: Evidence on the effectiveness of workplace controls “explores the effectiveness of workplace controls to prevent exposure to engineered nanomaterials.”  According to a media release on the reports this report found:

  • “current control and risk management methods can protect workers from exposure to engineered nanomaterials
  • enclosure of processes involving nanomaterials and correctly designed and installed extraction ventilation can both significantly reduce worker exposure to nanomaterials, and
  • a precautionary approach is recommended for handling nanomaterials in the workplace.”

Pages from ToxicologyReview_Nov09The lack of available health effects data has directly led to the precautionary position in recommendations but it is good to see that the hierarchy of controls (old technology) is being applied to new technology. The report gets to a point of recommending a combination of

“…controls [that] should provide a robust regime through which nanomaterials exposure to workers will be reduced to very low levels.”

The bibliography in this report is also excellent and includes a comparative table of the research reports and papers analysed.

Engineered nanomaterials: A review of toxicology and health hazards was a literature review that  reports:

  • “there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that engineered nanomaterials have a unique toxicity. However, sufficient toxicity tests have not yet been conducted for most engineered nanomaterials
  • nanoparticles tend to be more bio-reactive, and hence potentially more toxic, than larger particles of the same material, and
  • carbon nanotubes are potentially hazardous to health if inhaled in sufficient quantity.”

Nanotechnology is a difficult area of OHS study as there is so much research material coming through that it is (probably more than) a full-time job just to stay current.  The literature review into toxicology makes a point that it is important to remember in this field.

“A wide variety of in vitro and in vivo experimental protocols have been used to assess biological responses to NPs, some of these yield more useful data for occupational risk assessment than others.  Some are potentially misleading.” [emphasis added]

The second of these reports was a good introduction to the general issues of health risks but must be stressed that these reports deal with engineered nanoparticle(s) (ENPs) which are defined as

“A nanoparticle with at least one dimensions between approximately 1 nm and 100 nm and manufactured to have specific properties or composition. “

Increasing research into any issue almost always leads to a fragmentation of the discipline into subsets.  That research into engineered nanoparticles is different from regular nanoparticles needs to be remembered.  As the report itself says

“…the major thrust of the research is in relation to identifying potential hazards for assessment of occupational safety since working with ENPs is likely to be where most exposure occurs. In contrast to ambient particulate air pollution, where health effects have been observed and research has been aimed at discovering the causative agents and mechanisms, the reverse is true for ENPs.”

Tom Phillips AM, chair of the Safe Work Australia Council said , in a media statement,

“Safe Work Australia has requested that the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme undertake a formal assessment of carbon nanotubes for hazard classification to clarify regulation of these nanomaterials.

“We have also requested that CSIRO develop guidance for the safe handling and disposal of carbon nanotubes, which will be a useful resource for OHS managers.”

It is good to see Safe Work Australia (now an independent statutory body) take one of the ACTU recommendations from its 2009 factsheet.

Kevin Jones

New Australian academic OHS journal 2

On 4 November 2009, the first edition of the Journal of Health & Safety Research & Practice began appearing in some Australian letter boxes.  This is the long-awaited, and long-promised, journal produced for members of the Safety Institute of Australia.  The three articles in this inaugural edition are very good but the format and the marketing is very odd.

SIA journal cover 001The journal says that “[SIA] members may also access electronic copies of articles via”  Go to the page on the Safety Institute’s website for the Peer Review Journal and the page is blank.

SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted the SIA for information about any launch of the publication or media release.  There is nothing currently available.

The Editor-In-Chief, Dr Stephen Cowley rightly points to the importance of communication.

“Scholarly publication is central to the communication of new work and ideas…and a fundamental tenet of scientific work is that it is subject to critical appraisal.”

But the SafetyAtWorkBlog contention is that “new work and ideas” need to be circulated much more broadly than solely in a scholarly publication limited to the members of the Safety Institute.  The SIA says the content is planned to be “released” online after six months but there is a huge difference between publishing ideas and promoting ideas.  One element of the SIA’s mission statement is to “promote health and safety awareness” and this means actively promote, not just publish something and see what happens.

If the SIA really wants to compete with the only other OHS journal in Australia, The Journal of Occupational Health and Safety – Australia and New Zealand published by CCH Australia, it will really need a strong promotional strategy that makes the SIA journal as indispensible as CCH’s.

The justification for another peer review journal in such a small academic pool as Australia remains unclear but there is speculation that the SIA journal has come about as a result of dissatisfaction with the CCH journal.

The test for the validity of the SIA journal will be to see contributions coming from tertiary institutions from around Australia and not just from VIOSH, a school associated with the University of Ballarat, the employer of both the Editor-In-Chief and one of the two Executive Editors.

In terms of format, it is accepted that this is a first edition and that it is a work-in-progress.  However this first edition has had a gestation of several years and to have only three articles, even though they are very good, seems a little thin.  In the CCH journal, which has existed for decades, there is also the following

  • Notes for Contributors,
  • Index,
  • Book Reviews,
  • Obituaries,
  • Court Cases, and
  • a Noticeboard

Some of this content may be in a sister publication for SIA members that is also currently going to members but, as this journal is dedicated to Dr Eric Wigglesworth, at least an obituary could have been expected.

Being the first edition, the omission of an index is understandable.

The journal is published with the assistance of LexisNexis Media, a major source of  legal and court reports.  Surely some relevant content could have been accessed through LexisNexis although, again, maybe the SIA member publication will carry this.

If the CCH journal is used as the yardstick for OHS journals in Australia, the SIA journal is a good start.  But the CCH journal should not be the benchmark being aimed at.  In the 21st century, the SIA should be looking well beyond its competitors and embracing the new internet and publishing technologies to establish its own benchmark and to lead the pack, rather than follow.

The SIA is well aware of the Cochrane Collaboration and the Cochrane Library which offer a number of extra information and media services on its public health research.  The SIA is not in any way the equivalent of the Cochrane sites but some of the features could be applied to enhance the value of the SIA journal and to establish a greater prominence.

Kevin Jones

The articles in the Journal of Health & Safety Research & Practice are

“Breaking the Barriers of Insider Research in Occupational Health and Safety” by Annabel Galea

“Are health and safety representatives more effective at representing their designated work group having completed a Certificate IV course in OHS?” by Gavin Merriman and Stephen P Cowley

“The fifth age of safety: the adaptive age” by David Borys, Dennis Else & Susan Leggett.

Summer heat, fatigue and UV – a speculative solution 2

Let’s pull together several workplace hazards and suggest one control measure that may address all of them at once.  Of course, the control may generate other work hazards or management challenges.

In Summer, work occurs throughout daylight hours.  The long days, and possibly daylight savings, maximise the window of productivity for workers, particularly those who work outside – building construction, housing, rail maintenance, roadworks…..  Such work can lead to the workplace hazards of excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), fatigue, and heat stress.

Each of these hazards has its own separate advocates for safe practices, as well as the OHS regulator that provides guidance on all hazards.  This complicates the management of OHS because sometimes there are conflicting control measures or at least measures that are incompatible with the needs and desires of the workforce.  If we think of this combination of hazards as a Gordian Knot, we could solve the problem by splitting the working day into two sessions on either side of a sleep break or, as the November 2009 edition of the Harvard Health Letter calls it, a nap.

The Harvard article, “Napping may not be such a no-no”, discusses the good and bad of napping and the tone of the article seems to look at this control measure mainly for office-based or administrative tasks.

“[Robert Stickgold, a Harvard sleep researcher] says his and others’ findings argue for employer policies that actively encourage napping, especially in today’s knowledge-based economy.  Some companies have set up nap rooms, and Google has “nap pods” that block out light and sound.”

The article suggest a couple of suggestions

Keep it short. A 20- to 30-minute nap may be ideal. Even just napping for a few minutes has benefits. Longer naps can lead to grogginess.

Find a dark, quiet, cool place. Reducing light and noise helps most people get to sleep faster. Cool temperatures are helpful, too.

Plan on it. Waiting till sleepiness gets so bad that you have to take a nap can be dangerous if you’re driving. A regular nap time may also help you get to sleep faster and wake up quicker.

Don’t feel guilty! A nap can make you more productive at work and at home.”

But sometimes SafetyAtWorkBlog likes to extend a solution to the bigger picture.

In Australia, the peak period for extreme levels of UV is between the daylight savings hours of 10.00am and 1.00pm, or 3.00pm in some instances.  If an outside work site suspended work for three hours, the employees could have lunch and rest, or sleep, in the shade.  Depending on the location of the work site, some could even go home for that period.

The work day could still be as productive by starting early and finishing late, basically inserting a rest break of several hours into the middle of the daytime shift.  There is evidence in the Harvard article that productivity could be increased as a result of the rest break.

iStock_000004187454 construction siestal

On quick reflection, this scenario is a fantasy because the ramifications of such a change are huge, and OHS is unlikely to achieve any structural cultural change of this magnitude, but it remains an attractive fantasy.  The attraction is the logical simplicity but, of course, logic is often bashed around by reality and below are some of those realities:

  • Expanded work hours for a construction adjacent to a residential area working on the 9 to 5
  • Deliveries of supplies to be rescheduled to the two work periods
  • Would the split shift continue on cloudy and cool days or during Winter?
  • Would the portable/temporary lunch sheds now need to include a bunk room for all employees on a work site?
  • In a bunk room, would one person’s snoring becoming an occupational hazard for everyone?
  • Can plant be “paused” for the lunch break?
  • Can a concrete pour be interrupted for a lunch?

Lists of other problems or challenges are welcome through the blog’s comments field below.

Such a structural or societal control option (or fantasy) should be discussed, debated or workshopped as what may not work in the grand scheme may allow for changes, or tweaks, on a smaller scale.  Often the best OHS solutions come from speculation which can lead to the epiphany of “why do we do it that way?”

Of course, some countries are way ahead of the rest of the world in managing these workplace hazards by already having a culture that embraces the “siesta“.

Kevin Jones

ng may not be such a no-no


The demographic challenges facing OHS management Reply

The best OHS advice, or rather innovative thinking, is frequently coming from those experts from outside the traditional OHS background.

A case in point could be a presentation made by prominent Australian demographer, Bernard Salt, at one of the many Safe Work Australia Week events in South Australia.   Salt provided enough information about population changes that OHS professionals and regulators became uneasy about many of the challenges that they will face in the next few decades.

Consider yourself how the following facts provided by Bernard Salt will affect the way you manage safety in your workplace:

  • A ‘demographic fault line’ occurs in Australia from 2011, when the baby boomers start retiring.
  • More older workers will be in a position to retire than there will be younger workers to replace them.
  • Older workers will stay at their jobs for longer rendering them susceptible to body stressing and similar injuries.
  • Many older workers will scale down their work to a few days or one day a week, and as a result may not be fully attuned to the workplace safety risks.
  • To top up the Australian workforce (and tax base) a substantial migrant intake will be required.
  • These prospective workers (and entrepreneurs) will need to be educated in the Australian OHS culture.

If the OHS profession is to truly be “proactive”, it is these sorts of forecasts that should be anticipated.

Kevin Jones