Employee welfare must have a “culturally aware” context Reply

iStock_000037261798SmallIn July 22 2014 Dr. Dave Sharar, Managing Director of  Chestnut Global Health, stated:

“Business leaders here and abroad are starting to understand the need for systematic, scientifically proven approaches in alleviating the behaviors and conditions that compromise employee performance.  Managing the stress and the counterproductive behaviors that often result, is critical — but the key to success when engaging different populations in different parts of the world is to place these programs in a ‘culturally aware’ context, which lowers barriers and improves both engagement and outcomes.”

Most of the quote is inarguable and links the management of stress to the management of productivity.  However what was intriguing was the later part of the quote about locating stress management programs in a culturally aware context in different parts of the world.  SafetyAtWorkBlog established a quick dialogue with Dr Sharar about the quote. Below is the result.

A major element of Corporate Social Responsibility has been to try to apply a safety management system across many workplaces that is consistent with a uniform corporate program and values.  How can one address the culturally attuned context while still addressing the core corporate safety values? More…

Harm prevention needs to look beyond the individual into the corporate and the systemic 4

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are excellent resources for minimising harm from workplace issues, particularly psychosocial hazards.  However this usually occurs after an event or an incident.  This reality was emphasised recently by a media release from AccessEAP that revealed “the top five causes of workplace stress” (not available online but an article based closely on the release is available HERE) .  The top 5 seems reasonable but the advice in the media release doesn’t seem to address the causes of the top 2 – Job Insecurity and Work Overload.  These are difficult hazards to address particularly as the causes may originate outside the workplace but the media release indicates that to be effective safety managers it is necessary to look beyond the company’s fenceline and accept that the prevention of harm is now just as much social and political as it is occupational.

The top 5 triggers of workplace stress according to AccessEAP are:

  • Job insecurity
  • Work overload
  • Organisational change
  • Conflict with managers or colleagues
  • Bullying and harassment

Such triggers are not unusual. In 2002 the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine (JOEM) reported the following causes of stress at work: More…

Zero Accident Vision and its OHS potential 3

In 2013 the  Safety Science journal allowed open access to an article that discusses “The case for research into the zero accident vision” (ZAV). The terminology is slightly different but seems compatible with the “zero harm” trend occurring in Australia. The authors acknowledge that

“…. many companies with a good safety reputation have adopted a zero accident vision, yet there is very little scientific research in this field.” (link added)

Although the discussion revolves around experience in Finland and Finland has a unique culture, the concepts discussed are indicative of the ZAV:

  • “accounting for complex contexts;
  • setting up norms, rules and performance indicators;
  • identifying the role of safety climate and safety culture;
  • studying human behavior.”

The authors’ short discussion of context is important as it acknowledges the state of knowledge of hazards and advocates systemic analysis.  It also mentions dealing with ‘normal accidents” in complex settings that leads to either looking for safer substitutes or ‘high reliability theory’ and ‘resilience engineering’. Context is vital but there is also the trap of paying too much attention to context and not enough to the hazard, a situation that can often happen with wellbeing programs. More…

Where is the evidence for new moves on drug and alcohol testing? 10

On 1 July 2014, the Victorian Government introduce a mandatory drug and alcohol testing regime for the sections of the construction industry.  According to the government’s media release:

“New requirements for tighter screening of drug and alcohol use at construction workplaces across Victoria will commence from 1 July, helping to ensure a safer and more secure environment for workers.”

This decision has been made on the basis of “widespread reports of workers being intoxicated, and of drug distribution and abuse” but the rest of the media release reveals other reasons for these changes including political pressure on its Labor Party and trade union opponents in the months before a close State election. Premier Denis Napthine has indicated that the move is also about cracking down on “outlaw motorcycle gangs dealing drugs on the sites”.

But are reports of potential criminality on building site enough to introduce a drug and alcohol testing regime? It is worth looking at some of the existing research on drug and alcohol use (or its absence) in Australian and Victorian work sites.

More…

A rough ride on OHS 2

Since I heard about the Gaia hypothesis in the 1980s, I have read most of James Lovelock‘s books.  I was confronted by his argument that nuclear power is undervalued as one of the cleanest and sustainable sources of power, as I have grown up listening to anti-nuclear activists like Helen Caldicott and being frightened by films like Fail Safe and Threads.  I am not sure I agree with Lovelock but I respect him.  In his latest book, though, he makes a couple of negative references to occupational health and safety (OHS) that are cheap shots, unfair or disappointing.

Lovelock says, on page 2 of “A Rough Ride to the Future” that the chemical industry is “now mainly run by an intelligent and usually responsible technocracy” but that

“…we may be hampered in our attempts to solve the large problems [of pollution] by the absurdly zealous application of health and safety laws.” (emphasis added)

In discussing oxygen levels in the atmosphere and how its regulation is so important, Lovelock says, in parentheses,

“We are fortunate there is no inbuilt health and safety system in Gaia, otherwise the dangers of fires would have led to the banning of its production.” (page 13)

This comment, moreso than the former, shows Lovelock misunderstands OHS regulation and application.  Earlier in the book he praises the banning of chlorofluorocarbons on climatic reasons and then, absurdly, implies that OHS would advocate the banning of oxygen. It’s a cheap shot.  OHS is about trying to eliminate the risk of harm and by investigating the source of the hazard, usually through the scientific method.  More…

How can an OHS regulator get the management of its own staff so wrong? 3

How can an OHS regulator get the management of its own staff so wrong?

In June 2014, a NSW Parliamentary inquiry released its final report into Allegations of bullying in WorkCover NSW, that State’s occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator. The report found that

“…Workcover has a significant organisational problem with bullying.  This problem is a longstanding one and operates at a cultural level.” (page x)

The Committee Chairman Hon Fred Nile MLC, wrote that

“more effective leadership and governance is essential.” (page x)

Longstanding bullying problems?  Problems with leadership and governance?  Many companies and public sector organisations have had similar issues ambulances, police, fire services, research organisations, to name a few, and are working them through. What happened in New South Wales?

More…

The voice of OHS is being reduced to a squeak 14

The decline of trade union influence in Australia, as membership remains low, has the sad effect of also seeing a reduced voice for some core elements of occupational health and safety (OHS) such as the importance and prominence of the “safe system of work”, the myth of the “careless worker” and the insidious hazard of impairment. These OHS issues remain significant and demand attention but who will be the new voice of workplace safety?

Impairment

Impairment is a collective term that many trade unionists use for workplace hazards such as fatigue, drug use, alcohol use and other psychosocial hazards, such as stress.  Impairment is a useful term as it relates to the worker’s fitness for work and the level of attentiveness that the employer expects as part of the employment contract.  It also ties into the issue of labour productivity as an impaired worker, regardless of the cause of the impairment, is unlikely to be working as hard or as effectively, or productively, as the employer expects.

The downside is that using a collective term makes it more difficult to focus on specific interventions.  Drug and alcohol use can be combated by a combination of preventive education and enforcement through testing  but such strategies cannot be applied to fatigue or stress although both these elements may be contributory factors to drug and alcohol use.  Stress and fatigue are more effectively reduced by job redesign and a reassessment of the organisational structure and morality, in other words, the establishment of a “safe system of work” as required by both the OHS and Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.

Impairment may have some connotations of disability but its attraction is that it is a neutral term for describing something, or someone, that is not working as intended due to an external factor.  It is a good descriptor but a poor term from which to base anything more than general action.

Safe System of Work

The “safe system of work” has been a term whose definition never seemed to have stabilised in Australia’s legislation.  This is partly because it has been treated similar to a workplace culture, something that is thought to exist but never really understood.

More…

Important safety perspectives from outside the OHS establishment 2

Real Risk - CoverWhen people mention safety, they are often really talking about risk.  In a similar way, people talk about the absurdity of ‘elf ‘n’ safety when they actually mean public liability or food safety or HACCP.  And when some professionals talk about risk management they mean minimising the cost to the employer or controlling reputational damage.

Recently two books were released that illustrate the limitations of the current Western/patriarchal society’s approach to workplace safety. Dr Dean Laplonge has written about gender and its role in making decisions and Dr Rob Long has written his third book on risk “Real Risk – Human Discerning and Risk“.  Both deserve close reading and that reading should be used to analyse how safety professionals conduct their work, the organisational environment in which they work and the cultural restrictions imposed in their technical education.

Laplonge has written a book out of the extensive research and training on gender issues in the mining industry.  “So you think you’re tough? – Getting serious about gender in mining” provokes thoughts and self-analysis about gender in the workplace and safety management systems.  This perspective may be part of the reason that attempts at changing safety cultures, particularly in industries where there is a strong gender imbalance – construction, mining, emergency services, nursing, teaching, struggle. (For those who cannot purchase the book, check out this free publication on the topic from the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum) More…

Mind Set – Mental Health in Australian Workplaces Reply

[This article was written by Helen Borger and was first published in the May-June 2014 edition of National Safety - a magazine of the National Safety Council of Australia.  Reproduced with permission. (Links added by SafetyAtWorkBlog editor) ]

rsz_ns__mayjun_2014A quick online search reveals a plethora of advice and information about choosing the right mood-altering paint colours for office walls and selecting the best beanbags for worksite chill-out spaces. Not to mention the availability of on-site massages to ease employee tension and anxiety.

It’s tempting to make these interventions the centrepiece of workplace mental health and wellbeing programs because they are feel-good, visible signs of management action that are relatively easy to implement.

Although these interventions have their place, when jobs, work processes and workers come under pressure, staff are more likely to be driven up the moodaltering walls than calmed down by them; cobwebs, not workers, are more likely to come to rest on the beanbags in the chill-out spaces; and on-site massages are unlikely to singlehandedly resolve employee tension and anxiety.

The cost of work-related stress in Australia is enormous. Employers are spending an estimated $8 billion per annum on sickness absence and presenteeism due to depression; of this, $693 million per annum is incurred due to job strain and bullying, says Safe Work Australia’s report on psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia.

“Regardless of cause, the estimated cost of productivity loss for the most psychologically unhealthy 25 per cent of the Australian workforce was $17.84 billion,” the report adds.

No excuses

CommuniCorp Group* managing director and principal psychologist David Burroughs says while many organisations understand the complexities of workplace mental health, and are willing to ask the hard questions and genuinely fix problems in their organisations, he still sees many other organisations that rely on employee assistance programs (EAPs) or tertiary interventions, and are looking for quick fixes to very complex problems.

“The reality is there are very few quick-fix solutions when it comes to psychological health in the workplace. You can’t just run [a product] off the shelf and expect it’s going to address the various needs across all the different job roles, job levels and workplaces that are out there,” says Burroughs.

Despite the complexities, he rejects the concern that workplace mental health problems are hard to fix. “We’re asking [employers] to acknowledge what’s actually going on in their workplace. We’re not uncovering problems that aren’t there. We’re not taking a lid off a can of worms,” he says. “The excuse that it’s too hard, or it’s hard to actually spot, or it’s too problematic, is no longer valid … an employer has a responsibility and an obligation to the business and to [their workforce].”

Beyond the quick fix

To avoid tokenistic solutions, Kevin Jones, a work health and safety (WHS) consultant and the publisher of www.safetyatworkblog.com, says it’s necessary to remind workplace leaders that the aim of occupational health and safety (OHS) and its laws is to remove harm at the source. He says often things that bring symptomatic relief, such as massages at desks, have no impact on the cause. More…

Safe Work Method Statements – their role, their use and their curse 6

Paul Breslin caused a stir in Australia’s OHS sector in 2013 with his costing of one element of managing high risk workplaces, the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS).  In 2014, an update of Breslin’s research was published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Health, Safety and Environment (only available through subscription), in which he states that

“Industry stakeholders claim that the SWMS Process is no longer manageable and that this document process has failed the industry and has basically outlived its usefulness” and

Recent “criticism has centred on the fact that SWMSs, which were intended to be easy to use documents, have often become so large and complex that they are impractical to use”.

(The latter statement was supported by speakers at a recent (poorly attended) Safety In Construction Conference in Melbourne, Australia.)

Some general industry criticism has been aimed at occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators such as the various WorkSafes and the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner for accepting bloated and super-generic SWMSs but an equal amount of criticism could be laid at the feet of clients who often request a SWMS when, in fact they are seeking a construction or work methodology.  This is lazy management but also indicative of ignoring the need to have OHS professionals in the contract assessment process from the conceptual stage of a tender process. More…