Cancer data needs to start a discussion on effective controls 4

Cover of Cancer Occupational reportThe Cancer Council of Western Australia has released a report (not yet available online)that states:

“The number of occupationally caused cancers compensated each year equates to less than eight per cent of the expected number.” (Executive Summary)

This is an extraordinary statistic but consistent with the history of occupational health and safety (OHS) statistics where the core data originates from compensation figures rather than incident figures.  Cancer has always been a challenge in this area as it can manifest years after exposure or not at all. But this report also provides important data, and a challenge, for OHS professionals and business owners as

“Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.” (Executive Summary)

The report has an excellent discussion on why such statistics are estimates and the unreliability of previous data in Australia and overseas but there is only a short, but important, discussion about risk and hazard controls – the principle focus for OHS professionals. More…

The evolution of Broken Windows 1

One year ago, this blog included an article about possibly applying “broken windows” theory to occupational health and safety (OHS) as both involve the enforcement of rules. The article said:

“The principal OHS lessons from Broken Windows Theory are that one needs to scratch the surface of any new OHS approach, that these theories need time to mature and to be verified or questioned and that it remains an important exercise to look beyond our own experiences, but to look with an analytical eye.”

The theory is evolving according to the architect of the theory, William J Bratton in an audio report in  NPR’s All Things Considered for 4 May 2015.  According to that article:

“Bratton says he’s open to some revisions of the city’s broken windows philosophy, including more warnings for first-time offenders. But his larger message seems to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

All theories require adjustment to make sure they remain practical and relevant.

OHS professionals who correct the workplace hazards, particularly worker behaviours, that are the “low hanging fruit” seem to be following Broken Windows, theory to some extent. But to continue to do this, without addressing hazards higher up the hierarchy of controls,  the organisational structure and the managerial prerogatives will devalue the original intention of enforcing worker behaviours and improving the work environment.

Mark Griffith illustrates the risk of devaluing the enforcement effort when he says, in the NPR article:

“We all want a better quality of life…. What we’re saying is the approach to it — the tactics that are used to arrive at that — are overly aggressive, and are ultimately on some level counterproductive to the very goals you’re trying to achieve.”

This seems equally valid to workplace safety management.

Kevin Jones

Union backflip on drug testing presents huge opportunity for change Reply

In late March 2015, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) dropped its objection to drug and alcohol (D&A) testing on Australian construction sites.  There seems to be several reasons for this change and the evidence for D&A testing of construction workers remains scant but the opportunity for enormous change on this public health and occupational hazard should not be missed. More…

New analysis of deaths at work 3

Cover of Deaths at Work 2014Barry Naismith has followed up his first report into WorkSafe with a second that analyses the workplace deaths in Victoria since 1985.

One of the attractions of Naismith’s analyses is that he considers the broader context to the data.  His first report looked at WorkSafe Victoria’s actions and policies in relation to the executive and board complexion.  In this report he looks at the frequency of deaths with WorkSafe campaigns and enforcement response.

The analysis may not have the authority of a fully-funded research program from an academic institution but the level of detail he has collected from official sources is impressive, and in the absence of any other analysis, Naismith’s work deserves serious attention.

Kevin Jones

Master guide or handbook 4

In 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed the first edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide. CCH Wolters Kluwer has released its second edition and, sadly, it repeats many of the criticisms in the 2012 review.

The title of Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (2nd ed) seems inaccurate if one considers a book with “master ” in its title to be a “masterwork”. This is not a masterwork and the publishers have emphasised to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the book was never intended to be.  The book is intended to be a brief outline of the most important contemporary occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in Australia and to provide practical advice, checklists and templates.  In fact, the word that should be focussed on in the title is “guide”.

The publishers advised that “master” is in the title to indicate it is part of its “Master Series“, a “brilliant” series described as

“Australia’s premium range of professional books, widely accepted as the leaders in their fields.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog looked at a couple of chapters to assess the quality of the content.  As workplace bullying is such a contentious issue. the Bullying and Violence chapter was a focus. There were a surprising number of omissions in this chapter. More…

New research on OHS business case 1

cover of business-case-for-safe-healthy-productive-workSafe Work Australia recently released its second research paper related to developing or communicating a business case for occupational health and safety (OHS).  The paper has been authored by Sharron O’Neill and is called “The Business Case for Safe, Healthy and Productive Work – Implications for resource allocation: Procurement, Contracting and infrastructure decisions“.  O’Neill’s paper clearly challenges the dominant thinking of OHS and costs.

O’Neill states that the quality of previous analyses of OHS business costs have been “fundamentally poor”, partly because

“Rather than strategically examining the cost-benefit to business of work health and safety, the typical ‘silo’-driven analysis produces a narrow focus on a very different concept; the cost-benefit to business of health and safety interventions. This has obscured much of the potential for improving  organisational productivity and operational decision-making.” (page 4, link added)

More…

The SIA identifies four big issues for it in 2015 8

The Safety Institute of Australia‘s (SIA) CEO David Clarke revealed his four big issues for the SIA at a recent breakfast function in Melbourne.

Policy Agenda

Clarke stated that he had instigated the creation of a National Policy Agenda for the SIA – a first for the over 60-year-old registered charity.  Clarke emphasised that the SIA needed to understand the language of government, employers and unions as it relates to safety.  The significance of the agenda was reinforced by Clarke who said that without such a strategy, the SIA would struggle for relevance.

Certification

Another priority was the certification of the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia.  Clarke admitted that this was a controversial move but sees the establishment of a “licence to operate” as vital to increasing the status of the profession. More…

WorkSafe Victoria’s Len Neist addresses safety profession breakfast Reply

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), in its Australian partners and as a firm, has been prominent in occupational health and safety (OHS) matters, even though the organisation is “on the nose” with much of the trade union movement. This week HSF conducted a breakfast for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) in Melbourne, the first in a couple of years after an alleged falling out with the SIA.  The presentations did not sparkle as some have in previous years.

The most anticipated presentation was from Len Neist, an executive director of WorkSafe Victoria.  Neist outlined the aims of the organisation but much of this was familiar.  He reiterated the obligations on WorkSafe from the various legislation and pledged to focus on prevention.

Neist is not beyond executive jargon (“risk tolerability framework” ?) and stated one of his aims was to “incentivise compliance and improvement”.  One can argue that compliance should require no encouragement only enforcement.  Why provide incentives to businesses for what is their legislative and moral duty? More…

New book challenges current OHS trends Reply

Quinlan coverProfessor Michael Quinlan has a new book that focuses on lessons from recent mining disasters but, as with the best of occupational health and safety (OHS) books, it challenges orthodoxies.  Some OHS consultants and experts have built careers on these orthodoxies, trends and fads, and will feel uncomfortable with the evidence put forward by Quinlan in “Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster – Learning from Fatal Incidents in Mines and Other High Hazard Workplaces“. The honesty and humanity in this book makes it an essential part of any OHS professional’s library.

Quinlan establishes an important tenet from the very start:

“… knowledge is not created in a social vacuum.” (page xi)

This simple dictum is vital to an understanding of the true causal factors on OHS decision-making.  People die from OHS failures.  Politicians create laws and situations that can encourage failures, increase risk and can provide a veneer of respect for heartlessness and exploitation.  Business owners may feel pressured to place production before safety.  Some OHS writers and advocates stop, often unconsciously, at the point where their theory or market research would fail scrutiny.  Some apply critical thought only “as far as is reasonably practicable” to continue a business activity that is short-term or to sell their consultancy package to gullible or naive corporate executives.

Quinlan writes of the “political economy of safety”:

“The political economy perspective argues that safety, including workplace disasters, can only be understood in the context of the distribution of wealth and power within societies, and dominant social policy paradigms that privilege markets and profit, production or economic growth over safety.” (page 24, emphasis added)

To many readers this may sound like socialism in its mention of wealth distribution and power but such a perspective is valid even though it may be unfashionable.  Such a broad perspective allows for a critical assessment of other OHS research approaches such as, for instance, the culture advocates.  More…