One of the professional disciplines that has had the biggest impact on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australia has been sociology but that influence seems to be waning as it fails to compete with the managerial imperative of short-termism and the quick fix.
This demand for a quick fix is partly a result of the increased sensitivity to reputational damage of both the organisation and the executive. This can be seen by the increasing attention to apparent solutions to safety problems of the individual worker, for instance, resilience training which is primarily about the individual toughening up. Neuroplasticity has entered OHS by saying that the individual can reconfigure their brain to, somehow, work more safely. Of course, the ultimate short-term solution to most workplace problems has existed for years – sack the worker.
All of this denies the organisational influence on workers, managers and executives because organisational change is hard and it takes time, both are challenges that do not fit with modern expectations of business.
One of the clearest examples of the inability or unwillingness of executives to improve OHS through organisational change is the management of workplace bullying. More…
How language can change in only a little time! Earlier this month, SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote on the OHS context of the departure of Orica’s CEO, Ian Smith. In a liftout (not available online) in the Australian Financial Review, many of the same questions were asked by its Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd. The issues raised by the poor decisions of the board are a useful reminder of one of the potential contributory factors for the occupational and mental health of employees.
At last, one writer in the business press is describing Smith’s behaviour as it was – “…aggressive verbal, foul-mouthed abuse” when Smith “blew his top” and “humiliated” an employee.
This is much more direct language than that used in earlier media reporting where the carefully selected language of corporate media releases was reiterated. To understand the seriousness of the issue, it is necessary to describe actions accurately.
“…why a 21st-century board of directors would deliberately seek a CEO with an “aggressive management style”.
Recently I spoke at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur. The summit or rather a conference had around 50 delegates and was held in a small conference room in a good hotel near the centre of the city. The delegates were from a range of industries – maritime, power generation, construction and others. I learnt that there was much that Westerners could share with Malaysian OHS professionals but that the sharing would be much quicker and more meaningful if we knew more about the Asian situation before proposing our suggestions and solutions. More…
I have been invited to speak at the Safety Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur in March 2015. My presentation will focus on safety communications. My blurb in the conference program lists the following points:
- “Ways of Seeing” – the importance of John Berger’s work
- The importance of language in the reframing of Safety
- Writing about safety as a professional development tool
- Safety leadership and classical literature
- Embracing the importance of stories
I am in the midst of finalising my presentation and would welcome any input or stories from SafetyAtWorkBlog readers to assist me. Use the link below to contact me directly.
The Australian Government has announced an inquiry into workplace relations through the Productivity Commission (PC). The most obvious occupational health and safety (OHS) element of this inquiry relates to workplace bullying which is discussed in the fourth of five issues papers released in January 2015. However the purposeful separation of workplace bullying actions through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from actions in other sectors, such as OHS regulators, limits the potential impact of the inquiry on this issue.
The PC issues paper acknowledges the lack of the anticipated avalanche of anti-bullying applications and accepts that the structure of the FWC process may be partially responsible. This lack of applications, an issue discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, deserves further research and analysis. The FWC structure only allows applications from workers currently employed in the workplace about which they are complaining. It can be argued that the inability of the FWC to award financial compensation is an equal deterrent. If this is the case (and, as far as can be determined, this aspect has not been investigated) the motivation of anti-bullying applicants to FWC and OHS regulators may involve natural justice AND compensation. The role of money in bullying complaints and applications has been a taboo subject in the past but deserves some analysis, even though it may be very uncomfortable. More…
SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the following research project may be of interest to readers.
A research team from the Faculty of Business & Law at Deakin University, led by Drs. Elsa Underhill & Melissa Parris, are conducting a research project to:
- Develop a better understanding of how health, safety and well-being outcomes differ between types of workers (ie. permanents, casuals & labour hire) within the same workplace; and
- Develop an understanding of how employment status impacts on work/life balance.
Their findings are intended to better inform HRM and WHS practitioners on the development of evidence based strategies and policies to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.
They are seeking organisations which will allow them to survey their employees including, where appropriate, labour hire workers placed with organisation. Responses will be anonymous and respondents will have the chance to win 1 of 10 mini Ipads. Participating organisations will receive a report specific to their organisation, as well as the full project report.
Is your organisation interested in participating? If so, please contact Elsa.Underhill@deakin.edu.au for further information.
A spat has recently emerged on one of the safety discussion forums in Linkedin. The catalyst was a statement that
The source of this data, not disclosed at the time of the original post, was a company that sells
“…a great tasting, scientifically proven mix of cutting-edge branch chain amino acids and low Gi carbohydrates for sustained energy release, combined with a formulated blend of electrolytes for optimum hydration in harsh Australian conditions”.
The discussion quickly refocused from the original safety concern to one of unreliability of statements; sadly the discussion also became personal and abusive. but the discussion raised two discussion points:
- The reliability of statements on the internet, and
- the issue of hydration and work performance.
One of the most ignored, but important, elements of occupational health and safety (OHS) management is the business case. Work on this issue is being completed in Australia by Safe Work Australia but the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has beaten it to the punch by releasing “The business case for safety and health at work: Cost-benefit analyses of interventions in small and medium-sized enterprises“. This document includes new case studies that provide detailed analysis of cost and return on investment from interventions as varied as a vacuum lifter for pavers to warm-up exercises and task assessments of domestic builders by qualified physiotherapists.
The report found that:
- “Wide-ranging interventions appear to be more profitable than interventions targeting a particular
issue related to the sector of the enterprise.
- Interventions that mainly concern training and organisational change appear to be more profitable than interventions based on technical changes (such as introducing new equipment).
- Interventions that include direct worker (participatory) involvement appear to be more profitable, regardless of whether or not increased productivity benefits are taken into account in the
- In most cases, the enterprises managed to estimate benefits related to increased productivity. It
should be emphasised that increased productivity does not always come as a result of improved
safety and health, but it is taken into account in the context of a business case.” (page 10)
The 2014 Annual Report of the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) states a new initiative on workplace mental health:
“…a new direction for the VWA’s WorkHealth program has led to the Victorian Mental Wellbeing Collaboration. The VWA has invested in a tripartite collaboration with peak health promotion agencies VicHealth and SuperFriend to develop a range of evidence based tools and resources that will be tested and refined through industry leaders and made broadly available to Victorian workplaces.” (page 25, links added)
Two significant points in this statement are the development of a range of “evidence-based tools and resources” and the pledge to consult. However what is meant by a tripartite consultation in this context is unclear as traditionally OHS consultation has included employer associations, trade unions and government regulators. If health promotion agencies are included in this latest “tripartite collaboration”. Will the employer groups or trade unions be dropped? Consultation on any new OHS/wellbeing initiative should not be constrained in a tripartite combination.
One of the traps in this initiative is the potential confusion by terminologies. “Mental health” is a well-understood term that is readily applied to the workplace by organisations such as the Western Australian Mental Health Commission who quotes the World Health Organisation
“…. good mental health is not simply the absence of a mental disorder. It is a state of wellbeing whereby an individual can realise their own potential, manage everyday stresses, work productively and contribute to their community.” (page 6)
There have been many claims of a workplace bullying epidemic in Australia but there has always been a lack of evidence. Research has been targeted into specific industry sectors or regions but broad ranging studies have been few. This lack of evidence was a major frustration for the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying that concluded in late 2012. However useful evidence is beginning to appear.
A recent edition of the Journal of Health Safety and Environment included a report (subscribers only) entitled “The prevalence and nature of bullying: A national study of Australian workers”. The authors, Dr Sarven McLinton, Maureen Dollard, Michelle Tuckey and Tessa Bailey, wrote that the study
“… shows that nearly 7% of Australian workers reported bullying and harassment in the past six months.” (page 283)