The graphic workplace ads keep coming Reply

On 29 October 2008, WorkSafe Alberta released a series of graphic workplace safety ads under the banner “BloodyLucky”.  They are as confronting as the recent WorkSafe Victoria ads and raise many of the same questions about appropriateness, applicability and effectiveness.

The website www.bloodylucky.ca has a cheesy format that doesn’t fit with the explicit nature of the ads.  It is as if they want to blunt some of the impact by adding cheesy humour but it is confusing.  It may be that they intend the cinema presentation to mask the initial advertising impact so that the crush injury from the forklift or the chemical burns to the young girl have maximum shock value.  

Overall the ads are confusing and the ironic title “bloody lucky” doesn’t work on all the ads.

Recently a domestic violence campaign in Australia went with an ironic “thank you” message against inaction and compliance.  This misses the target also except on the ad of the adult male shutting the bedroom door through which we view a young girl.  That ad is genuinely disturbing. [links will be provided when available online]

Compare this to the student-produced video that is effective and dramatic without being extreme, bloody or weakly humourous.  This ad is a little long for a commercial ad but as a short safety video it works very well and the positive steps that can be taken are part of the ad, not an obscure link.

Sexual harassment and occupational health and safety 9

Some old-time safety professionals are struggling with the inclusion of psychosocial hazards in their safety management programs.  Some deny the relevance of sexual harassment to their duties and hope that the issue can be contained within the human resources department, the “dark arts” of workplace safety. 

Many of these same safety professionals are calling for more evidence-based decisions on workplace safety.

Evidence is now in on the social and work impact of sexual harassment. Australia’s Human Rights Commission has issued Effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment: A Code of Practice for employers  which states on page 48

Employers have a common law duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their employees. This common law duty is reinforced by occupational health and safety legislation in all Australian jurisdictions.

An employer can be liable for foreseeable injuries which could have been prevented by taking the necessary precautions. As there is considerable evidence documenting the extent and effects of sexual harassment in the workplace, it has been argued that the duty to take reasonable care imposes a positive obligation on employers to reduce the risk of it occurring.

A work environment in which an employee is subject to unwanted sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favours, other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, or forms of sex-based harassment, is not one in which an employer has taken reasonable care for the health and safety of its employees. A work environment or a system of work that gives rise to this type of conduct is not a healthy and safe work environment or system of work. An employer could be regarded as not having acted reasonably to prevent a foreseeable risk if practicable precautions are not taken to eliminate or minimize sexual harassment in the workplace.

Failure to fulfil the duty of care can amount to a breach of the employment contract as well as negligence on the part of the employer. This means that an employee who has been harmed could bring an action against their employer in contract or tort.

The guide can do with considerable translation to what businesses see as useful codes of practice in the application of safety management but perhaps that is for the private sector and State OHS regulators to work on.

There seems to be enough information available now on sexual harassment, fatigue, bullying, violence, fitness for work, shift work, depression and other matters, that the safety profession should be more embracing of these concepts in their own planning.  Let’s hope that in this discipline we do not have to wait for generational change to achieve a change in approach.

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Dangerous Forklift Behaviour 2

At the risk of increasing a young person’s infamy, SafetyAtWorkBlog draws your attention to a (former) YouTube video of a young forklift driver misusing a forklift.

According to a WorkSafe media release:

Dangerous forklift driving has cost a young worker his job, his forklift licence and earned him 50 hours of community work and an order to do a 5-day health and safety course.

WorkSafe today prosecuted 20-year-old Seymour man, Matthew Garry Ward, after posting on YouTube a video of him doing stunts on a forklift.

The video, which has now been removed, showed him deliberately crashing into concrete pipes, doing burnouts and overloading the machine so he could do wheelies.

Seymour Magistrate Caitlin English convicted Mr Ward, ordered him to do 50 hours of unpaid community work complete a five-day Occupational Health and Safety course and pay WorkSafe’s court costs of $1200. 

Mr Ward was also sacked for misconduct.

Forklifts are possibly the most dangerous piece of equipment on worksites.  Statistics show a high frequency of death and injury associated with their use.

Before phone cameras and YouTube this type of workplace behaviour would never have received the attention that this case has.  The worker may have been sacked for being “bloody stupid” but there would not be the notoriety that can come from this type of act.  The Ward case has appeared on several television broadcasts, is in the papers and is mentioned in blogs like this.

The worker’s actions only came to light when his employer at Australasian Pipeline and Pre-Cast Pty Ltd, which produces reinforced concrete pipes at nearby Kilmore, viewed the video.  If Ward did not have a vigilant internet-savvy boss, it is likely the video would still exist on YouTube and the worker would not have come to the attention of the OHS regulator.

The Ward prosecution came at an opportune time for WorkSafe to re-emphasise their young worker safety campaign in the context of their long-active forklift safety program.

The Ward case indicates the choices young people make between potential internet fame and personal trouble.  There are many examples of this risk management decision in a range of areas related to the internet. Matthew Ward made the wrong decision, or he just took things that little bit too far.  At least he is facing the consequences of his decision.

The right time to do something, or union shortsightedness Reply

The title of this blog is deliberately positive because I find it hard to understand why, when union right-of-entry is such a hot political topic, a New South Wales Minister would defy Federal Court action and accompany union organisers onto a construction site against the wishes of the company who operates the site.

The legal action has been considerably drawn-out but Minister Phil Costa’s seems purposely inflammatory.  In a report on the visit in The Australian on 12 November 2008, the Minister said he was given permission by Sydney Water and a building contractor.  This confirms the confusion over control of a workplace that is being worked through as part of the National OHS Law Review panel.  Who  is the principal contractor?  Who runs the site?

The minister says that permission was obtained from John Holland Construction and the company was accommodating.  The media report did not say if there was any particular reason the minister visited although a media handler said it was a PR visit.

The CFMEU assistance secretary said the only way the union could get on site Was “as a visitor with the minister” and that OHS issues have been raised including dust, wetness and falling from heights.

The minister’s visit just confirms the beliefs of the New South Wales employers that the Labor government’s relationship with the unions is too friendly.  There is some support for this perspective when the government chooses to keep Sydney Ferries out of the credit-rating fire sale, “after intense pressure from union leaders” according to one media report.

In a national context, Minister Costa’s visit illustrates the need for clarity on national OHS laws as John Holland moved from the state workers’ compensation system to the national version, Comcare, a couple of years ago.  So not only did the visit raise matters of workplace control, there was jurisdictional problems.

Unless you are a construction union member in New South Wales, minister Costa’s actions had no positive result.

I have been a union member for several decades and support many of their initiatives but occasionally some in the union movement take short term gains and narrow interest over the bigger picture and the best interest of the whole union movement.  Isn’t short-term gain over long-term benefit what the unions accuse the banks and the corporations of?

Maintaining professional standards by looking outside the discipline 1

I am a great believer that solutions to hazards in one industry can be applied or adapted to other industry sectors.  Regular readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog are aware of the cross-referencing between general workplace hazards and some solutions from the sex industry.

However, solutions can come from other countries as well, and not just from the United States.  Last week, a car bomb set off by Basque separatists in the University of Navarra in the northern city of Pamplona resulted in 248 people being treated for respiratory trouble, coughing and nausea from inhaling unidentified gases.  A university spokesperson, Javier Diaz, reportedly said that the fumes were generated by repair works that “are related to the terrorist attack.”

This occurred seven years after the 9/11 attacks in New York and after the resultant and widespread reporting of persistent health issues suffered by relief workers and emergency services personnel.  Yes, fumes are different from airborne particles of asbestos but the hazard, and the control mechanisms, are similar.  The lessons of exposure by emergency workers in disasters are obviously still to be learnt.

This morning, 10 November 2008, we wake up to a Russian submarine disaster that immediately reminds us of the tragedy of the Kursk in 2000.  Overnight 200 submariners and shipyard workers were affected in  the K-152 Nerpa submarine from exposure to freon gas.  Three servicemen and seventeen civilians have died.  Initial reports say that the gas was released when the fire extinguisher system was activated.

Russian submarines off the east coast of Russia can easily be dismissed by newspaper readers and business professionals as largely irrelevant but the media has said that 

“A Russian expert has reportedly said that a lack of gas masks among too many untrained civilians may have elevated the death toll in the submarine.”

Does insufficient PPE and training sound familiar? The release of gas in a restricted area?

For OHS professionals everything is relevant to making the best decisions possible for clients and employers.  The trick is to allocate the appropriate level of relevance to the information.  Risk managers and OHS professionals need to filter information from the widest possible pool of knowledge in order to provide the best advice.

We are not all Russian shipyard workers in a just-built submarine but, increasingly, we could be helping people from the rubble of a collapsed building, or helping in the aftermath of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, or advising on a fire safety procedure and safe design of buildings.  We need to read, listen and digest so as to maintain and improve our personal core body of knowledge.

Legal summary on OHS Review report from Mallesons Reply

Mallesons is the next Australian OHS law firm to issue a statement on the first report by the National OHS Law Review panel.  The report is not much more than a summary, as commentary is kept to a minimum.

What is interesting is that they mention the alternate sentencing options of 

  • adverse publicity orders
  • remedial orders
  • corporate probation
  • community service orders
  • injunctions
  • training orders, and 
  • compensation orders.

As with the monetary and custodial sentences, if these become included in the law it does not mean that the will be applied very frequently, if at all.

Adverse publicity orders seem peculiar and outdated as they usually apply solely to the print media.  With the growth of the internet and with most companies having websites of some sort, it would be useful to vary such orders to include longevity and reach, rather than a single ad in a newspaper that does not remain in the public mind for long.

Now there is an opening for a safety-monitoring weblog.

National OHS Law Review – First Report released Reply

The first report of the National OHS Law Review panel was presented to the Australian Government yesterday. The best initial assessment of the report can be found at a safety blog operated by Deacons law firm.  In that report by Michael Tooma and Alena Titterton, the following points are made:

  • there should be a general duty of care for health and safety
  • “worker” is defined more broadly as ‘person who works in a business or undertaking’
  • “the Report recommends that a defined ‘reasonably practicable’ be built into the offence in the model OHS Act which reflects the current approach taken in all jurisdictions except New South Wales and Queensland.”
  • The prosecution will bear the onus of proof beyond reasonable doubt on all elements of an offence”
  • Offences could be indictable and heard in front of a Judge and jury. 
  • Increased penalties in line with those for environmental breaches – Corporation = $3 million,  Individual = $600,000 Imprisonment – up to five years  
  • An appeals process where cases could be taken to the High Court of Australia

“Reasonably practicable” remains a concept with a floating meaning for most business owners and OHS professionals.  For a type of legislation that is intended to be readily understood by a layman, this legalese is disappointing however it is likely that clarification will come from the OHS regulators as it has already in some States.  The review panel supports this type of clarification.

Interestingly, the report says on “the primary duty of care” that it “should not include express reference to control” and that 

‘Control’ should not be included in the definition of reasonably practicable.

The panel says that “control” will be discussed in the second report as will the definition of a “workplace”.

The Deacon’s authors remind us that reports of this type are not automatically implemented by governments and that the review process has several months to run.

The report needs to be read carefully by OHS professionals as the recommendations will set the scene fro OHS law in Australia for, perhaps, decades.  Also, going beyond the list of recommendations allows readers to see which of the issues considered were contentious and which had uniform acceptance.

The trade union movement is yet to release public statements but according to one media report, Geoff Fary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions is

“disappointed that a qualified duty of care would continue to rest with the employer”.

That same report is headed “Prison time for unsafe bosses” raising the spectre of industrial manslaughter.  That does not seem to be case and may say more about the readership of The Australian or the politics of the sub-editors.  However, it will be interesting to see the responses of the employer associations over the coming days.

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Young Worker Safety – Part 3 1

Several colleagues have pointed to a young worker safety website that was established in Canada several years ago, http://www.notworthit.ca/ .   The site, part of the WCB’s Young Worker campaign, won an award from American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds in their annual Communications Awards in 2007.

There are remarkable similarities to The Pain Factory, even to the point of encoruaging young workers to tell their own stories.  The similarity is, perhaps, justified when considering the safety message is aimed at the same demographics, however it shows that originality is rare in occupational health and safety promotions.  Certainly the use of internet videos is a marked difference between the sites but the success of NotWorthIt should be remembered if The Pain Factory is also put forward for advertising or communications awards.

WorkSafe CEO, John Merrit is a strong advocate of his organisation’s young worker campaign.

Physical activity, mental health, alcohol consumption and productivity 1

The Victorian Government’s workplace health strategy may be “coughing up blood” but health promotion continues.  Last week, Australian health insurer, Medibank Private, released some statistics and cost estimates related to physical inactivity.

According to the media release, physical inactivity costing the Australian economy $13.8 billion a year. The findings are based on research conducted in conjunction with KPMG-Econtech which builds on Medibank’s 2007 research and “captures the healthcare costs, economy wide productivity costs, and the mortality costs of individuals passing away prematurely as a result of physical inactivity.”

Craig Bosworth of Medibank Private says, 

“Most Australians are aware of the benefits of physical activity but this latest round of Medibank research has revealed some alarming effects of physical inactivity. An estimated 16,179 people die prematurely each year due to conditions and diseases attributable to physical inactivity and that is frightening. And whilst the majority of these are from the older population there is also a large number of people dying under 74 years of age due to physical inactivity, particularly in the male population.”

Bosworth goes on to say:

“Like other health risk factors, physical inactivity can have an adverse effect on organisations as well as individuals. Specifically, physical inactivity can impact on employee productivity by causing increased absenteeism and presenteeism, which impose direct economic costs on employers. The Medibank research has found that productivity loss due to physical inactivity equates to 1.8 working days per worker per year.”

Three audio statements on this research are available – physical-inactivity-telephone-grabs-edit

The SuperFriend Industry Funds Forum Mental Health Foundation has also released statistics on mental health in the workplace. The survey also found that 50 per cent of Australians admit to often feeling stressed and a quarter often feel depressed. 

John Mendoza, Chair of SuperFriend’s Mental Health Reference Group, said, “There is increasing evidence of a link between stress in the workplace and mental illness. The cost of workplace stress to Australian business is potentially crippling.” Listen – workplace-mental-health-edit

The Superfriends survey found

StreetWise

StreetWise

  • One in two Australians believe that having a few drinks is a good way to maintain or improve their mental health;
  • 80 per cent of Australians believe watching TV has a positive impact on their mental health;
  • Australians are putting their bodies ahead of their brains, with three-quarters of Australians engaged in activity to maintain or improve their physical health, while only 50 per cent are actively engaging in activity to maintain or improve their mental health.
  • Older Australians are more likely to heed the call ‘use it or lose it’. While 57 per cent of all Australians feel they take good care of their mental health, 68 per cent of those over 50 feel they are looking after themselves emotionally.
  • Australians aged 40 to 49 are the unhappiest and unhealthiest. Those in this age group are more likely to feel stressed and depressed and less likely to look after their physical and mental health.

A good starting point in planning to manage stress is the StressWise publication by WorkSafe Victoria.

For many decades, perhaps centuries, unhappiness at work was countered, to varying degrees, through the consumption of alcohol.  According to the latest Australian Unity Wellbeing Index people who drink everyday are the happiest, whereas non-drinkers have a lower sense of wellbeing.

Amanda Hagan of Australian Unity summarises some of the research findings and supports the link between physical activity and positive wellbeing. Listen – australian-unity-wellbeing-index-aap-medianet-edit

WorkHealth – end is nigh after less than one year 2

Early in 2008, the Victorian Government sprung a surprise on the OHS and health promotion industries by announcing a world-first initiative – WorkHealth.  This program was to be funded by interest generated from the WorkCover scheme to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years.

WorkHealth loses stakeholder support

Two weeks ago, a well-respected OHS professional advised that key stakeholders in WorkHealth were very cool on the program.  This confirmed previous questions raised in SafetyAtWorkBlog about the promotion, transparency and organisational support for WorkHealth.  The professional stated that others were questioning the placement of WorkHealth in the OHS field rather than in health promotion.

Rumour has existed for some months that WorkHealth is a scheme that has been pushed by a narrow range of OHS and workers compensation advocates.

What made WorkHealth so interesting was that the concept originated from within the workers compensation field with workers compensation money.  At the time, the wisdom of committing such a large amount of money to the initiative was questioned by many in the trade union and business areas.  Why head in this direction when there were established mechanisms to reduce OHS and workers compensation costs?

The global economic problems, it is suspected, would have flowed to the investments of the WorkCover scheme and it would be interesting to know what the revenue allocation to WorkHealth now is calculated at.

OHS/Industrial Relations conflict

In The Age newspaper on 26 October 2008, WorkHealth gained some attention as business groups have now seen the criteria for the health assessments of workers.  David Gregory of the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry described the criteria as a potential “industrial weapon”.  According to the article,

“WorkSafe told The Age the idea of an initial ‘tick test’ screening process had been abandoned, and the proposed $130 million worth of prevention programs are not in the pilot at all.”

As is evident from the quote, it is the pilot scheme that is being rolled out, however it is clear from the comments of David Gregory and the state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, Steve Dargavel that industrial relations sensitivities have not been considered.

Gregory makes excellent points that good OHS professionals are already aware of – workplace safety can only succeed when industrial relations implications and conditions are considered before any intervention process.

OHS has broadened to include the hazards of fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, workloads, bullying and other matters that have encroached on health promotion and human resources over the last decade or so.  A worker health program would have been more likely to be accepted through this osmosis rather than a surprise announcement.

Is this the end?

WorkHealth could work if it had been generated as a workplace application of public health programs.  The challenge would have been to legitimise the expenditure in an already cluttered health promotion sector.  How would WorkHealth have achieved this testing regime when business is already assessing its workers for psychological disorders, cholesterol, prostate health, hearing, asthma, and a whole range of modern health issues?  It is unlikely that it could so.

It came down to health assessments in a different context – a context where there had been insufficient groundwork to establish the value of the program to its fundamental stakeholders, the unions and employer groups.  To a much lesser extent, the program was not sufficiently integrated into the WorkSafe authority’s program before the announcement.

Also, the timing has been proven to be wrong.  The global economic problems are beginning to squeeze business’ bottom line.  The calls for workers’ compensation premium relief will increase in the same way that businesses have begun questioning the viability of an emissions trading scheme.  WorkHealth is likely to be one of those program cut, so the government will claim, due to the changing economic climate.  The lessons to be learnt are more wide-ranging than just economics.