Australia’s Go Home on Time Day Reply

November 26 2009 was Go Home On Time Day in Australia.  The intention of this day, organised by The Australia Institute, was to highlight the difficulty many workers face in a achieving this seemingly simple task.  The Australia Institute’s expresses the aims this way:

  • The typical full-time employee is working 70 minutes of unpaid overtime a day, which equates to 33 eight-hour days per year, or six and a half standard working weeks.
  • Across the workforce, the 2.14 billion hours of unpaid overtime worked per year is a $72 billion gift to employers and means that 6% of our economy depends on free labour.
  • Converting unpaid overtime into full time jobs would create 1.1 million new jobs
  • Unpaid overtime harms our health, our personal relationships, our communities and our workplaces

The work/life balance advocates would say not doing unpaid overtime as a regular part of the job is an important balancing technique.

The Australia Institute has provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with some statistics from the special day’s 20,000 registered participants which may illustrate some of the difficulties of achieving that work/life balance.

Over 55% of registered participants managed to leave work at the contracted time on 26 November 2009.  Of those who could not, almost 70% said they could not because they “had too much work to do”.

Of those who went home on time, these were the most common activities:

  • Spent time with family/played with kids
  • Exercised/went to the gym
  • Household jobs/chores
  • Caught up with friends
  • Walked the dog

Those who admitted to working unpaid overtime (1836) gave the following reasons

To get the work done

86.5%

Because my boss/employer expects it

28.8%

To help colleagues

23.1%

To ensure my job is safe/secure

21.6%

To demonstrate how hard I work

14.2%

Because everyone else does it

13.6%

There seems to be only one genuinely positive and collegiate reason, to help colleagues.  The others indicate job and personal insecurity, unreasonable workloads or bad time management on behalf of employees and employers.

The statistics are of mostly curiosity value but are further indications of the social structural problems that contribute to increased work mental health risks.  Of those who signed up but could not get away from work, a couple of reasons given were

  • Boss knew I was trying to go home on time and loaded me up.
  • Management laughed.
  • My Boss said I was not to say the words out loud.

These days are intended to raise awareness of specific issues in society and Go Home On Time Day is a worthwhile addition but as with Asbestos Awareness Week, at some point awareness must move to action.

Kevin Jones

Shoemaking in South East Asia – book review Reply

Some of the best OHS writing comes from the personal.  In a couple of days time a new book will go on sale that illustrates big issues from a niche context and brings to the research a degree of truth from the personal experiences of the author.

Pia Markkanen has written “Shoes, glues and homework – dangerous world in the global footwear industry” which packs in a range of issues into one book.  The best summary of the book comes from the Preface written by the series editors.

“Pia Markkanen’s extraordinary first hand investigation of the dangers of home work in the shoe industry in the Philippines and Indonesia is an important contribution to our understanding of work, health and the global economy. She also carefully documents the intersection of gender relations and hierarchy with the social relations of “globalised” economic development and reveal as the important implications for the health of women, men and children as toxic work enters the home.”

As one reads this book, local equivalents keep popping into the reader’s head.  For instance, Markkanen’s discussion of the home as workplace raises the definition of a “workplace” that is currently being worked through in Australia.  She briefly discusses the definition in her chapter “Informal Sector, Informal Economy” where she refers to an ILO Home Work Convention, and usefully distinguishes between the homeworker and the self-employed, a distinction that Australian OHS professionals and regulators should note.

Markkanen does not impose a Western perspective on her observations and acknowledges that regardless of the global economic issues and social paradigms, “shoemakers felt pride for their work”.  This pride goes some way to explaining why workers will tolerate hazards that others in other countries would not.  In many OHS books this element is often overlooked by OHS professionals and writers who are puzzled about workers tolerating exposure and who look to economic reasons predominantly.

In South East Asia, limited knowledge can be gleaned from literature reviews as the research data is sparse.  Markkanen interviewed participants first hand and, as mentioned earlier, this provides truth and reality.  She describes the shoe makers’ workshops in Indonesia:

“Shoe workshops are filled with hazardous exposures to glues, primers, and cleaning agents, unguarded tools, and dust.  Work positions are often awkward, cuts and burns are common, as are respiratory disorders.  Asthma and breathing difficulties are widespread when primers were in use.  Workers were reluctant to visit doctors because of the expense.”

She then reports on the interviews with Mr. Salet, a shoe manufacturer, Ms. Dessy, the business manager, Mr Iman, the business owner, Mr Ari, a skilled shoemaker, and many others.

Markkanen also illustrates the shame that the minority world and chemical manufacturers should feel about the outsourcing of lethal hazards to our fellows.  In the chapter, “Shoemaking and its hazards”, she writes:

“Shoe manufacturing will remain a hazardous occupation as long as organic solvents are applied in the production.  It is notable that in 1912, the Massachusetts Health Inspection report declared that naphtha cement, then in use for footwear manufacturing, was considered hazardous work.  The 1912 report also referred to a law which required the exclusion of minors from occupations hazardous to health – the naphtha cement use was considered such hazardous work unless a mechanical means of ventilation was provided and the cement containers were covered…. minors were prohibited from using the cement.  Almost a century later, hazardous footwear chemicals are still applied – even by children – in the global footwear industry.”

There is little attention given to the OHS requirements of majority world governments by OHS professionals in the West, partly because the outsourcing of manufacturing to those regions has led to the reporting of OHS infringements and human rights issues more than information about the legislative structures.

Markkanen provides a great section where she describes the OHS inspectorate resources of the Indonesian Government and the fact that Indonesian OHS law requires an occupational safety and health management system.  Granted this requirement is only for high-risk industries or business with more than 100 employees but there are many other countries that have nothing like this.  Markkanen quotes Article 87 of the Manpower Act 2003:

“Every enterprise is under an obligation to apply an occupational safety and health management system that shall be integrated into the enterprise’s management system.”

It is acknowledged that this section of legislation is hardly followed by business due to attitude and the lack of enforcement resources but we should note that safety management is not ignored by majority world governments.

Lastly, Markkanen provides a chapter on the gender issues associated with the shoemaking industry.  She makes a strong case for the further research into the area but it is a shame that to achieve improvements in women’s health the reality is  that

“women’s health needs female organizers and female women trade union leaders who understand women’s concerns”.

Some male OHS professionals may be trying to be “enlightened” but this seems to not be enough to work successfully in some Asian cultures.

Overall this book provides insight by looking at a small business activity that illustrates big issues.  The book is a slim volume of around 100 pages and it never becomes a difficult read because it is concise and has a personal presence that other “academic” books eschew.  As with many Baywood Books, the bibliographies are important sources of further reading.

At times it was necessary to put the book aside to digest the significance of some of the information.  Occasionally the reality depicted was confronting.  Baywood Books could do well by encouraging more writers to contribute to it Work, Health & Environment Series.

Kevin Jones

[SafetyAtWorkBlog received a review copy of this book at no charge.  We also noted that, according to the Baywood Books website, the book is available for another couple of weeks at a reduced price.]

Australian research figures into quad-bike deaths and injuries Reply

A SafetyAtWorkBlog reader drew our attention to a research report on quad bike safety by one of Australia’s most well-known researchers into agricultural safety, Lyn Fragar.

The report entitled “ATV Injury on Australian Farms – The Facts – 2006” details a compilation of police, hospital and injury data from many years concerning ATVs or quad bikes.  Recommendations and observations are made but curiously the design of the vehicles is not considered as a contributory factor in rollovers and rollover protection structures are not mentioned.

Kevin Jones

Asbestos Awareness Week calls for action 7

During Asbestos Awareness Week 2009 in Melbourne Australia the trade union movement pledged to begin a national strategy to control and remove asbestos from Australia.  This would have been a very tall ask any time in the last two decades but Asbestos needs to compete now with Climate Change for the attention of the media, the decision makers and the heartstrings of the community.

It is accepted that in the near future more people will be touched directly and indirectly by asbestos-related diseases but, at the moment, the issue is concentrated in low-income industrial suburbs and, as such, is still dismissed by some (often in suburbs with large trees and no pubs) as a disease that only strikes the blue-collar smokers.  The social inequity of asbestos-related diseases should be studied in some depth as it is likely to shame governments into action on this hazard.

Jim Ward - Australian Workers Union

At a seminar in late November 2009, a small audience in the Victorian Trades Hall was told of the success of the Tasmanian campaign in gaining government support for the removal of all asbestos by 2030.  Jim Ward of the Australian Workers Union spoke of the approaches to Goliath Cement (“The James Hardie of Tasmania”). Ward told how the CEO of Goliath did not blink at the request to remove asbestos.  Ward said this type of response has been repeated throughout Tasmania.

The audience also heard from several who are at the frontlines of dealing with asbestos-related diseases.  Vicki Hamilton and Tim Tolhurst spoke of the frustration of having inadequate disposal facilities in regional areas of Victoria.  The challenge here is immense as the temptation to bury asbestos in the back paddock when no one’s around is strong even though it is selfish and immoral.  Vicki and Tim showed how a structured program across the community is required because one cannot encourage the removal of asbestos until there is a place to safely dispose of it.

Vicki Hamilton of GARDS

Pat Preston, ex-CFMEU and now with the Asbestos Contractors’ Group, spoke of the legislative and operational problems faced by licensed asbestos removal contractors.  The holes and conflicts all complicate the process of asbestos removal and disposal and increase the cost, particularly of asbestos removal.

Several speakers pointed to the anomaly that the removal of asbestos from domestic buildings of less than ten square does not required licensed removal, thereby “encouraging” small volumes of asbestos to be hidden at the bottom of domestic rubbish bins.  The OHS risks to waste collectors are not dissimilar to those who dispose of toxic and trade waste down the toilet next to the workshop when WorkSafe or the union is not around.

Of course the audience and speakers seem to all agree that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.  There are certain to be those in Australia who are “asbestos-skeptics” and many seem to have the ear of the decision-makers.

One speaker provided a fresh perspective that was very appropriate but surprising for a couple of reasons.  Anthony La Montagne, of the University of Melbourne, has undertaken ongoing research on job stress, cancer clusters and, clearly, asbestos issues.  La Montagne provided the glum news that several promising medical techniques for early detection of asbestos have come to nought.  The only effective risk reduction technique is for those who may have been exposed to asbestos to quit smoking as this smoking appears to exacerbate asbestos-related disease.

Several speakers noted that in the Asbestos Awareness Week 2008, there was a motion to have the Government undertake action on asbestos.  The resulting inaction was embarrassing and motivating with participants committing themselves to continuing to lobby for controls on asbestos.  This is going to be a considerable challenge if they continue through the same lobby process that they have applied for the last few years.

Tom Tolhurst of ADSVIC

The asbestos safety advocates should drop “awareness” from the week’s title because awareness equates to “aspirational targets”, former Prime Minister John Howard’s way of promising much and delivering nothing.  Just as everyone accepts that smoking causes lung cancer and climate change exists, people know that asbestos can kill.  Move away from awareness-raising to action.

Research the social inequity of asbestos in low-income areas.  Many domestic houses have asbestos houses or in their roofs, particularly in low-income areas which are also the areas where asbestos workers live.  If the reality and scope of this situation was proven to a level and in a format that policy-makers accept, the asbestos control option would be much stronger.  Even if the government continued its inaction, a case could be put to the discrimination tribunals and human rights sector to shame the government to represent all citizens equally.

Market the asbestos week.  White, pink and striped ribbons are becoming a fundraising cliché but the marketing of social health issues works.  There must be a coordinated approach to getting sponsors and support into the promotion of asbestos-related diseases on a large scale.  Once there is serious money behind the issue, one can fund research and present data that convinces decision-makers of the reality of the issue.

Pat Preston of Asbestos Contractors' Group

Undertake a public health cost-benefit analysis of asbestos-related disease, as one speaker advocated at the Victorian Trade Hall.  There are many lessons from the compensation issues of James Hardie Industries but one is that compensation creates wealthy (for a short while) families of dead workers and can do little of health benefit to the mesothelioma sufferers.  It is surprising that the fact has not clicked in the government mind that compensation for asbestos-related diseases provides an important but only symptomatic relief.  The government is applying paracetamol to an issue that requires surgery.

The union seminar was heartening in that it showed how many people are actually tackling the issue of asbestos-related diseases.  But it also operated under a cloud of frustration with an occupational and public health risk that is not receiving the government support that other similar matters are.  Trade unions are a vital part of any plan to control asbestos but just as many people in the leafy suburbs are isolated from asbestos risks, so the audience for the asbestos message is limited by the message remaining within the trade union context.

Tony La Montagne of the University of Melbourne

There needs to be a creative approach to generating sufficient community outrage over the unnecessary deaths of workers from asbestos so that the government cannot avoid action.  The James Hardie legal action and the lobbying of Bernie Banton, and others, was about compensation, about making a company accept its social responsibility, about making it pay.  It worked, but James Hardie still cannot afford the compensation bill that is the reality of decades of profits from a toxic substance that kills.

In 2009 several Australian Governments have helped out this company by contributing $A320 million to the company’s compensation fund.  Why?  When did the government decide to cover the costs of a company’s exploitation of workers?  This is on top of having to fund the public hospitals that have to deal with mesothelioma victims.  The government, and the taxpayer, is paying twice!

Let the company fail and allow the class action lawyers to pick over the assets.  Or better yet, keep James Hardie Industries alive and bleed it just enough so that it can fund the removal of its toxic legacy for the next thirty years.

Every shareholder in James Hardie that receives their dividend cheques from whichever country James Hardie moves to next (Zimbabwe cannot be far off) needs to understand that those dividends could be used to ease the pain of the workers who generated the corporate profits rather than contribute to their own bloated share portfolios.

Kevin Jones

Leadership – research, mental health and what true leadership is. Reply

Scandinavia produces some of the best research into OHS issues.  However, due to the social structure of Scandinavian countries, the research has little direct and practical application outside the region.  The research is best taken conceptually as it will need to be evaluated closely to determine local applicability.

(TIP: whenever an OHS researcher says “recent Scandinavian studies show….” remind the researcher which country they are in and ask them to explain the practical application in the local context)

In early 2009, there was a bit of media attention about research that found, according to researcher Anna Nyberg

“Enhancing managers’ skills – regarding providing employees with information, support, power in relation to responsibilities, clarity in expectations, and feedback – could have important stress-reducing effects on employees and enhance the health at workplaces.”

In October 2009 Anna Nyberg’s thesis on the issue was released.  According to the abstract to her thesis

“The overall aim of this thesis was to explore the relationship between managerial leadership on the one hand and stress, health, and other health related outcomes among employees on the other.”

Nyberg’s thesis details the needs for some adjustments in the research to allow for “staff category, labour market sector, job insecurity, marital status, satisfaction with life in general, and biological risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”  These adjustments are important to remember when reading any of the media statements about Nyberg’s research.

There were five studies within the thesis and, according to the abstract, they found the following:

“Attentive managerial leadership was found to be significantly related to the employees’ perceived stress, age-adjusted self-rated health and sickness absence due to overstrain or fatigue in a multi-national company.”

“Autocratic and Malevolent leadership [in Sweden, Poland, and Italy] aggregated to the organizational level were found to be related to poorer individual ratings of vitality…. Self-centred leadership … was related to poor employee mental health, vitality, and behavioural stress after these adjustments.”

“… significant associations in the expected directions between Inspirational leadership, Autocratic leadership, Integrity, and Team-integrating leadership on the one hand and self-reported sickness absence among employees on the other in SLOSH, a nationally representative sample of the Swedish working population.”

“… significant associations were found between Dictatorial leadership and lack of Positive leadership on the one hand, and long-lasting stress, emotional exhaustion, deteriorated SRH [self-reported general health], and the risk of leaving the workplace due to poor health or for unemployment on the other hand.”

“In the fifth study…a dose-response relationship between positive aspects of managerial leadership and a lower incidence of hard end-point ischemic heart disease among employees was observed.”

But what can be done about the negative affects of poor leadership on health, safety and wellbeing?  The thesis is unclear on this, other than identifying pathways for further research in this area.

The SafetyAtWorkBlog  recommendations, based on our experience, are below

  • Carefully assess any training provider or business adviser who offers leadership training.
  • Ask for evidence of successful results in the improvement of worker health and wellbeing, not just a list of client recommendations.
  • Look beyond the MBA in selecting senior executives.  If you expect executives to establish and foster a positive workplace culture, they need to have to be able to understand people as well as balance sheets.
  • Remember that the issue of leadership as a management skill is still being investigated, researched and refined.  It is not a mature science and may never be, so do not rely solely on these skills.
  • Some say that leadership cannot be taught and cannot be learned.  Some say that leadership, as spruiked currently, is not leadership, only good management.  Leadership only appears in times of crisis and manifests in response to critical need, not in response to day-to-day matters.

This last point needs a reference – page xiii of “Seventh Journey” by Earl de Blonville

“… leadership cannot be taught.  If it is being taught, it may just be management, rebadged at a higher price.  The second discovery was that leadership is not about the leader, which will confound those with a needy ego.  There were two more things that revealed themselves to me: leadership is all about paradox, which is why it resists attempts to tame it into a curriculum, and at its core leadership is lonely, requiring the strength that could only come from a grasp of its intrinsic paradox.”

Kevin Jones

New Australian discussion paper on nanotechnology 3

Nanotechnology research papers are often very technical and highly unlikely to discuss the occupational health and safety impacts of the technology’s use.  The papers often rely on someone else to explain the relevance of the research.

But on 24 November 2009, Dr Fern Wickson of the University of Bergen spoke in Brisbane about nanotechnology challenges and released a discussion paper entitled “What you should know about nano“.

According to an accompanying media release from The Australia Institute Dr Wickson’s paper included several recommendations:

  • Mandatory reporting on all products containing nanotubes and other nanomaterials
  • A parliamentary inquiry into nanoST
  • Health surveillance and environmental monitoring of high potential exposures
  • Adopting a precautionary approach to the commercialisation of the technology in cases where the potential for harm has been demonstrated, significant uncertainties remain and social benefits appear marginal.

The reasons for the recommendations are explained in the paper but the paper is, refreshingly, intended to

“…introduce and engage its audience in the experiment that is nanoscale sciences and technologies, particularly from the perspectives of consumer and environmental protection and occupational health and safety.”

The links and footnotes are excellent sources of original research material including the recently released (but not available online without a fee) paper

Bergamaschi, E (2009). ‘Occupational exposure to nanomaterials: present knowledge and future development’, Nanotoxicology, 3:3, pp. 194–201.

Enrico Bergamaschi’s research paper, according to an abstract, recommends that

“…given the limited amount of information about the health risks associated with occupational exposure to engineered NP, the precautionary principle suggests to take measures to minimize worker exposures. Implementing appropriate engineering controls, using personal protective equipment, establishing safe handling procedures, together to monitor worker’s health, are all strategic elements of a risk management programme at workplace.”

Plenty to read and even more to think on.

Kevin Jones

ROPS and Quad Bikes – the failure of ATV manufacturers and OHS regulators 13

The Hierarchy of Controls has some questionable OHS applications to psychosocial hazards but it applies very well to “traditional” hazards, those involving plant.  The Hierarchy also emphasizes that the first step in any hazard control is to consider whether the hazard can be eliminated.  But what happens when the designers of equipment and plant know that a design can be made safer but do nothing to improve it?

For almost two decades some Australian OHS regulators have provided rebates to farmers to fit roll over protective structures (ROPS) to tractors to prevent deaths and injuries to the drivers from rollover or flips.  In 2009, one would be hard pressed to find a tractor that does not have its safety features emphasised as a sales benefit.  ROPS on tractors have been compulsory since 1998 in most States.

On 17 November 2009, Workplace Standards Tasmania issued a safety alert which, like the New Zealand ATV guidelines, advocates helmets and not ROPS even though OHS legislative principles say that elimination of hazards is the aim. The Tasmanian safety alert outlines the reasons for the safety alert

“Recent information shows there are, on average, 15 fatalities a year associated with using quad bikes in the Australian rural industry sector. Many more people are injured.

A recent coronial inquest into seven fatal incidents involving quad bikes (two in Tasmania and five in Victoria) has sparked a renewed call for improved safety on quad bikes.

As a result, Workplace Standards Tasmania has adopted a policy of zero tolerance of breaches of duty of care responsibilities with quad bikes.”

Zero tolerance of breaches of duty”?  The Tasmanian OHS Act places this duty on the designers of plant

(1) A person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any plant or structure for use at a workplace must so far as is reasonably practicable –

(a) ensure that the design and construction of the plant or structure is such that persons who use the plant or structure properly are not, in doing so, exposed to risks to their health and safety;…..

SafetyAtWorkBlog is awaiting comments from Workplace Standards Tasmania on the elimination of ATV rollover hazards.

As a terminological aside, there is a growing movement to rename All Terrain Vehicles as Quad Bikes because the fatality and injury data clearly shows that the vehicles cannot be driven in “all terrains”.

Five recent fatalities involving quad bikes, mentioned in the safety alert, should spark some investigation into whether the design of the plant contributed in any way to the fatalities.  Yet the safety alert makes no mention of design other than, tenuously, encouraging farmers to make sure

“…your quad bike is properly maintained and used according to the manufacturer’s specifications.”

This is a reasonable statement but if it was possible to make the vehicle safer, to save one’s own life and livelihood, by adding a ROPS, why wouldn’t you?

The manufacturer’s specifications are certain to be suitable to that quad bike but what if the quad bike design is itself not “fit for purpose”?  Plenty of other machines and vehicles are being redesigned to accommodate poor or inappropriate driver behaviour.  What makes quad bike so sacrosanct?

Victoria had a major opportunity for reform in this area through a parliamentary inquiry into farm deaths and injuries in August 2005.  Many farm safety advocates had high hopes for major change on ATV safety but design changes were not recommended.

According to the farm safety report

“Some witnesses suggested that roll over protection structures for ATVs should be made compulsory. Others, particularly representatives on behalf of the ATV industry, argued that fitting of a roll over protective structure to an ATV would adversely affect the handling and utility characteristics of these vehicles.”
Extensive research was undertaken by the Monash University Accident Research Centre which found
“…that, in the event of an ATV accident, “if the occupant is adequately restrained [with a suitable safety harness] within a protective roll over structure, the severity of [injuries caused during] the roll over event is dramatically reduced.”
Contrary evidence on ROPS was presented on behalf of the vehicle manufacturers.  The Parliamentary Committee understandably found
“To the Committee’s knowledge, there is no existing example of a roll over protective structure device that satisfies requirements for driver protection without substantially reducing the handling characteristics of ATVs. This report cannot, based on available evidence, make any recommendations concerning the fitting of roll over protective structures to ATVs.”
The UK’s Health & Safety Executive in 2002 undertook a detailed survey on the issue of ROPS and, among many recommendations said
“The use of the “safe cell” technology offers a number of imaginative approaches as alternatives to traditional structures, particularly for smaller machinery, and should not be overlooked.  Their contribution could be invaluable if relevant techniques were validated and became legally acceptable.”
Farmers, equipment manufacturers and OHS advocates are understandably confused when there is conflicting information (but then uncertainty breeds stagnation which is likely to advantage those who do not want change).
An investigation into ATV safety funded by the New Zealand Department of Labour in 2002 provided the following conclusion

“… it appears that the risk of using ATVs is significant, however there are some possible measures that could be put in place to reduce injuries, particularly those that are more severe and/or fatal. It seems that appropriate training is the most promising factor particularly because of the strong impact human behaviour has on the outcomes of the accidents.

In addition, the high risk for a fatal outcome when ATVs are rolled over, pinning the driver Reducing Fatalities in All-Terrain Vehicle Accidents in New Zealand underneath, suggests that further consideration and research is needed regarding the use of ROPS and/or any other measures that can prevent an ATV from rolling over.”

One Australian manufacturer accepted the challenge and has designed a ROPS for ATVs that shows enormous promise. QB Industries has developed the Quadbar, a passive roll over protection structure.  A demonstration video is available to view online.
It is understood that the Australian distributors of ATVs are not supportive of the safety innovation of QB Industries.  Apparently the distributors believe that the Quadbar increases the risk to the rider and that the safety claims are misleading.  The distributors are also concerned that the Quadbar may jeopardise the manufacturer’s warranty.
These concerns may be valid but surely these need to be independently tested and, if the device saves the lives and limbs of farmers and other riders, incorporated into the design in such a way that the vehicles become safer, regardless of the actions of the individual.  After all, the safer design of motor vehicles has progressed substantial from the days of Ralph Nader’s investigations in the 1960’s to such an extent that safety is a major sales strategy.
One independent test conducted for QB Industries by the University of Southern Queensland reported this about the QuadBar:
  1. The Quad Bar did not impede rider operation of the quad bike during normal operation (based on limited riding by the Chief Investigator).
  2. In low speed sideways roll over, the Quad Bar arrests the roll over and prevents the ATV from resting in a position that could trap and asphyxiate the rider.
  3. In higher speed sideways rollover, the Quad Bar impedes the roll over and prevents the ATV from resting in a position that could trap and asphyxiate the rider. In all tests the Quad Bar provided some clearance between the ground surface and the ATV seat so the rider would be unlikely to be trapped in this space.
  4. In all back flip tests, the Quad Bar arrested the back flip and the quad bike fell to one side.
  5. There were no conditions where the ATV with the Quad Bar fitted rested in a position that was more detrimental to rider safety than the ATV without protection.
If this device did not exist, the advocacy of helmets as the best available safety device  may have been valid but this design has the potential to eliminate the hazard and not just minimise the harm.  Surely it is better to have a farmer walk away from an ATV rollover that to break a neck or have a leg crushed.
The battle that QB industries has had, and continues to have, with quad bike vehicle manufacturers is beginning to reveal tactics by the manufacturers that are reminiscent of those of James Hardie Industries with asbestos and the cigarette manufacturers over lung cancer.
The approach of the OHS regulators to ROPS for ATVs must be reviewed because the dominant position seems to be that helmets are good enough, that no one is striving to eliminate the hazard or and that the Hierarchy of Controls does not apply.
QB Industries has followed the OHS principles and has designed a ROPS that warrants investigation, and the support and encouragement of OHS regulators.  The longer this investigation is ignored, the more people will be killed and injured when using these vehicles.  To not investigate this design would be negligent.

Unpaid overtime is the new danger money 1

In Australia there is increasing pressure to work more hours than what one is paid for. Many different organisations use this fact to push for various improved benefits, in many circumstances the statistics are used in support of wage improvements.

But working beyond contracted hours will certainly affect one’s work/life balance as there are only so many hours in the day and if work dominates one’s life, family time or rest will be sacrificed. The imbalance leads to a range of negative psychological and social actions. An article in Wikipedia on working time summarises this.

“In contrast, a work week that is too long will result in more material goods at the cost of stress-related health problems as well as a “drought of leisure.”  Furthermore, children are likely to receive less attention from busy parents, and childrearing is likely to be subjectively worse.  The exact ways in which long work weeks affect culture, public health, and education are debated.”

Australia has yet to have the debate on the matter of working hours that has been seen in Europe and England but the issue exists very much in Australia, although it has yet to gain any traction.

According to a media report by the Australian Council of Trade Unions a new research report by the Australia Institute

“… found that each year, the average full-time Australian worker does 266.6 hours of unpaid overtime, or an extra six-and-a-half working weeks…. The think tank estimates that through unpaid overtime, workers are forgoing a total of $72.2 billion in wages or 6% of GDP.”

The Australian Institute report found the following

  • Forty-five per cent of all Australian workers, and more than half of all full-time employees, work more hours than they are paid for during a typical workday.
  • Unpaid overtime is more common among people who work a ‘standard’ business workday (that is, not shift work) and among white-collar workers.
  • Workplace culture is a dominant contributing factor, with 44 per cent of people who work unpaid overtime saying that it is ‘compulsory’ or ‘expected’ and another 43 per cent saying that it is ‘not expected, but also not discouraged’.
  • Across the workforce, the average employee works 49 minutes unpaid during a typical workday.
  • Full-time employees work 70 minutes of unpaid overtime on average, while parttime employees work 23 minutes.
  • Men work more unpaid overtime than women (63 minutes versus 36 minutes a day). Men with young children work a great deal more than women with young children (71 minutes compared with 30 minutes).
  • Unpaid overtime increases with income: people in low-income households work an average of 28 minutes of unpaid overtime a day compared with 61 minutes for people in high-income households.
  • When asked what would happen if they didn’t work unpaid overtime, most say that ‘the work wouldn’t get done’, suggesting that the demands placed on employees are too much for many people.
  • A majority of survey respondents who work additional hours said that if they didn’t work overtime they would spend more time with family, and many said that they would do more exercise.

The report clearly states that allowing “unpaid overtime” has a strong cost in social and individual health but there is an OHS perspective that over gets overlooked due to public health and industrial relations dominating the issue.

In a media statement from October 2009, as an example, Deloittes quoted some scientists, in support of a anti-sleep device, on statistics that have been bandied around for some time:

“…scientists equate fatigue to blood-alcohol levels: if a person has been awake for 18 hours, it’s the equivalent of having a .05 level of alcohol in their body; if they have been awake for 21 hours, it’s equivalent to a.08 level.”

There are several further examples on negative health impacts in the Australia Institute report.

It can be strongly argued that by allowing, or expecting, “unpaid overtime”, employers may be encouraging workers to travel home while impaired and that employers are creating a work/life imbalance by requiring “unpaid overtime”.   Certainly it could be argued that even during unpaid overtime, the cognitive function of the employee is less than expected, or even have the worker unfit for work.

Arguing about unpaid overtime clearly makes the debate one of money not safety or wellness or the social contract, and this is the argument’s inherent weakness.

Arguing for compensation for “unpaid overtime” is arguing for “danger money” – how much money will a worker accept in order to keep working into the unhealthy and dangerous hours beyond their regular contracted hours?  This type of argument disappeared almost twenty years ago in Australia when the Australian awards system was reformed to remove allowances in relation to working at heights, picking up roadkill, or working in excessive heat.   It was agreed that “danger money” was inappropriate and that OHS principles demanded the risks involved with these tasks be reduced rather than “paying workers” to place themselves at risk.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence, in his media statement in support of Go Home on Time Day, and The Australia Institute in its media statement on its report both underplay a major point in the debate on working hours when they argue in economic terms.  Lawrence says

“If the work demands are too much to complete in a normal working day, then employees should be paid for their extra hours, or their employer must hire more staff.”

The institute mentions wellness in passing but emphasises in its media release

“..the 2.14 billion hours of unpaid overtime worked per year is a $72 billion gift to employers and means that 6% of our economy depends on free labour.”

Employing more staff is preferable but removing the culture of unpaid overtime is far more important.   Arguing on the basis of economics, ie “being paid for their extra hours”, may expose the worker to greater risk of injury or illness at the workplace or on the way home.   Quality of life, work/life balance and personal health and safety are stronger arguments for “going home on time”, arguments supported by The Australia Institute and the Australian Greens.

Kevin Jones

Tasmania’s workers compensation changes pass 1

It is easy to forget that workers compensation is clicking along during this intense period of analysis of OHS laws.  Workers compensation legislation passed through Tasmania’s House of Assembly this week (it still needs to get through the Legislative Council).  The Minister for Workplace relations, Lisa Singh, highlighted the following components of the changes in a media release on 6 November 2009.

“The key reforms will:

  • Improve access to common law damages for compensation by reducing the whole of person impairment threshold from 30% to 20%;
  • Amend the first step-down to 90% of normal weekly earnings rather than 85% of normal weekly earnings;
  • Delay the operation of the first step-down, so that it comes into effect at 26 weeks of incapacity rather than 13 weeks;
  • Streamline the management of injury and illness to deliver better health and return to work outcomes for injured workers and lower costs to employers;
  • Foster and reinforce a return to work culture among employers, workers and other stakeholders;
  • Provide greater income security for injured workers by increasing the duration and reducing the “step-down” of weekly compensation payments for injured workers;
  • Increase lump sum compensation up to $250,000 for permanent impairment or death to levels more comparable to those provided in other states and territories;
  • Provide additional financial incentives for workers and employers to participate in rehabilitation.”

The reforms are based on the Government’s response to the recommendations of Victorian consultant Alan Clayton and the Return to Work and Injury Management Model developed by the WorkCover Tasmania Board.

Alan has been a prominent advisor on workers compensation to governments around Australia for some time.  His Tasmanian review and recommendations were in 2007 and are available online.  The Government’s response is also available.

The Minister has said

“With the range of views that were put forward during consultation I am confident that this legislation strikes the right balance of fairness for workers and their families and support for employers and business.”

Simon Cocker, of Unions Tasmania, said in response to the Bill:

“The Workplace Relations Minister is to be congratulated for pursuing these improvements which will ensure that injured workers are better supported when they return to work and are paid more appropriate rates of compensation while off work.”

“The step-down provisions that currently operate have been shown to be unfair and place injured workers and their families under financial stress at a time when they are often struggling to cope with the impact of a serious injury.”

“Delaying the step down and softening its financial impact is an improvement.”

The Australian Government paid considerable attention to the Victorian OHS Act  because it was the most recent review of that legislation.  If the government continues this trend, the Tasmanian changes may be very significant for the rest of the country.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE: 19 November 2009

Tasmanian workers’ compensation laws passed the Legislative Council on 18 November 2009.

Work-related suicides in Europe Reply

The Irish Times has reported on a speech made by Dr Jukka Takala, Director of EU-OSHA, in Spain in November 2009.

“[Dr Takala] said since the publication of a recent study showing a very high level of work-related suicides by French Telecom workers, there was an urgency about getting this information. “Personally, I favour a system such as they have in Japan where the families are compensated for the suicide of a relative, and the debate has already started in this organisation and in the commission and some of the member states,…”

It is not uncommon in OHS to hear calls for further research and more research on work-related suicide is definitely needed.  (Australia has some very good work in this area.)

Caution has to be voiced on the risk that suicides be seen as the mental health version of workplace fatalities.  Research and OHS statistics often focuses on fatalities for various reasons including that the statistics are easy to quantify.  If a worker dies from being crushed by a machine, its a workplace fatality.  There is a trap in terms of suicides where the cause and effect is not so clear, or mechanical.

Only recently have workplace fatalities begun to be investigated with consideration of the social or non-work contributing factors.  If the machine operator was pulled into the machine because they were inattentive, why were they inattentive?  In terms of suicides, the agency of injury will be fairly obvious but the contributory factors could be far more complex.  And if the suicide victim has not left a note explaining the reasons for their action, it is even harder to determine “cause”.

Looking at suicides runs the risk of  not paying enough attention to the mental health issues that have not reached the suicide level.  The focus should not be researching suicides but researching the combination of issues leading to suicide.  It is a much greater challenge but is likely to have more long term benefits.

Takala’s comments about family compensation and the need to acknowledge the reality of work-related suicides gained the attention of The Irish Times because they meet the imperatives for a newsworthy angle.  Takal’s speeches at the Healthy Workplaces European Summit 2009 covered much greater territory than the Irish Times article and should be read to better understand the comment’s context.

There are hundreds of work risks that require assessment and psychosocial hazards is one of those areas.  A full list of speakers at the conference is available by looking at the program.  Abstracts of most presentations are available for download.

Kevin Jones