Managing Safety After A Vacation Reply

On 4 January 2009, the Sunday Age contained a curious article based around some quotes from Eric Windholz, acting executive director of WorkSafe Victoria. The article reports Eric as saying that when workers return to work after a holiday break they can be careless. 

“People come back, they’ve taken their mind off the job, they’ve had a well-earned holiday and sometimes it takes them a little while to do the basics of making sure they’re working safe…..Recommissioning their equipment, starting plant, starting at construction sites again, people may not have their minds on the job and they get hurt.”

WorkSafe has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog (and provided the original media statement) that

“JANUARY is one of the most dangerous months with 3.8 deaths/year over the past decade.  There were three January deaths last year and 5 in 2007.”

However, this general data does not necessarily indicate injuries by those returning to work after a vacation and is likely to include seasonal activities in the high-risk Summer industries, such as farming.

Employer Obligations

The Sunday Age article makes no mention of the obligations that are also placed on the employer in a “restart” situation.  Often workplaces in January in Australia operate on a skeleton staffing level and the lack of adequate resources, or unreasonable expectations, can lead to an unnecessary risk of increased injury.  OHS systems must be able to operate throughout all levels of management and through the annual chronology of production.

A suitable management system should operate regardless of the number of staff working in that organisation.  After all, OHS legislation refers to a “system of work” not “the way we work when the boss is away” or “the way we work when away from the main office”.

“Blaming The Worker”

The omission of employer obligations in the article skews it dangerously to “blaming the worker” – an issue that recently came up in relation to WorkSafe’s young worker campaign but extends back, at least, to the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The issue is best illustrated in the chapter “The myth of the careless worker” in John Mathews’ book (now understood to be out-of-print) HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK (Pluto Press).

More recent information on this issue, and the rebadging of it as Behavioural-based Safety, can be found at the Victorian Trades Hall site where a BBS kit has been drafted based on a Trades Hall seminar that SafetyAtWorkBlog attended in 2005.

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The media statement provided to SafetyAtWorkBlog shows that WorkSafe did not specify workers or employers in its cautionary statement for those restarting their work and businesses after the Summer break.  It is, however, very interesting that The Sunday Age chose to focus on the obligations of workers, showing just how pervasive the concept of “blaming the worker” really is.

For the record WorkSafe makes the following suggestions, amongst others: 

  • Most people killed or hurt are doing routine tasks. 
  • OHS is a shared responsibility, BUT directors whether of large or small companies have clear responsibilities because they set the agenda – you might refer to the [WorkSafe] campaign where people were asked to do silly things by supervisors. 
  • Many people return to work next week – It’s easy to get swamped when you first go back – take some time before it gets too busy to identify known or potential hazards and fix them! 
  • Conduct regular reviews – get everyone involved – from the board room/main office to the newest person.

 


Mental support research Reply

In SafetyAtWorkBlog in 2008 there have been several posts concerning suicide.  There is a growing research base on the matter and The Lancet adds to this through an article published in December 2008.

Researchers have found that the type of mental health services provided to the community can affect the rate of suicide.  This is important research even though SafetyAtWorkBlog regularly questions the applicability of research undertaken in Scandinavian countries to the rest of the world.  Bearing the cultural differences in mind, the research will stir debate and, hopefully, localised research along the same lines.

Below is the text of the press release about the research:

WELL-DEVELOPED COMMUNITY MENTAL-HEALTH SERVICES ARE ASSOCIATED WITH LOWER SUICIDE RATES

Well-developed community mental-health services are associated with lower suicide rates than are services oriented towards inpatient treatment provision in hospitals. Thus population mental health can be improved by the use of multi-faceted, community-based, specialised mental-health services. These are the conclusions of authors of an Article published Online first and in an upcoming edition of The Lancet, written by Dr Sami Pirkola, Department of Psychiatry, Helsinki University, Finland, and colleagues.

Worldwide, the organisation of mental-health services varies considerably, only partly because of available resources. In most developed countries, mental-health services have been transformed from hospital-centred to integrated community-based services. However, there is no decisive evidence either way to support or challenge this change.

The authors did a nationwide comprehensive survey of Finnish adult mental-health service units between September 2004 and March 2005. From health-care or social-care officers of 428 regions, information was obtained about adult mental-health services, and for each of the regions the authors measured age-adjusted and sex-adjusted suicide risk, pooled between 2000 and 2004 – and then adjusted for socioeconomic factors.

They found that, in Finland, the widest variety of outpatient services and the highest outpatient to inpatient service ratio were associated with a significantly reduced risk of death by suicide compared to the national average. Emergency services operating 24 hours were associated with a risk reduction of 16%. After adjustment for socioeconomic factors, the prominence of outpatient mental-health services was still associated with a generally lower suicide rate.

The authors conclude: “We have shown that different types of mental-health services are associated with variation in population mental health, even when adjusting for local socioeconomic and demographic factors. We propose that the provision of multifaceted community-based services is important to develop modern, effective mental-health services.”

In an accompanying Comment, Dr Keith Hawton and Dr Kate Saunders, University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry, UK, say: “The message to take from these findings must be that while well thought out and carefully planned new developments that increase access to secondary care services for mental-health patients are to be encouraged, measured progress towards flexible community care, not rapid ongoing change, should be the order of the day.”

 

Workplace Choirs Reply

As workplaces approach the winter break or Christmas, there will be in increase in communal singing.  One Australian has started to establish workplace choirs

Tania de Jong makes some good arguments about the benefits of greater worker contact and understanding through communal singing.  It sounds logical and I am sure there is evidence to show positive benefits,  just as there is to show the stress management benefits of laughing.

There are parallels everywhere with this not-wholly-original concept and one I am reminded of is the Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands.  (Maybe the economic downturn will cause an increase in trios and duets)

I foresee lots of niggly problems such as the singing of religious songs during Christmas, and singing ironic songs that obliquely criticise corporate strategies and performances.  I can think of many and ask that SafetyAtWorkBlog readers suggest others through comments below.

Suggestions already include

Money, Money, Money – ABBA

I Wanna Be a Boss – Stan Ridgway

Nine to Five – Dolly Parton

 

Kevin Jones

George W Bush and workplace safety Reply

In 2001, one of the first legislative actions of George W Bush was to repeal the United States ergonomics standard.  At the end of his presidency there are indications that he is thinking about the regulatory impost of OHS on businesses again.

Crikey.com and others have reminded us of the Bush Administration’s plans concerning the exposure of workers to chemicals

“David Michaels, an epidemiologist and workplace safety professor at George Washington University‘s School of Public Health, said the rule would add another barrier to creating safety standards, in the name of improving them.

“This is a guarantee to keep any more worker safety regulation from ever coming out of OSHA,” Michaels said. “This is being done in secrecy, to be sprung before President Bush leaves office, to cripple the next administration.””

Propublica has reported that new rules that seem to run counter to current fatigue management guidelines elsewhere have been finalised.

“The Department of Transportation has finalized an interim rule for the number of hours a truck driver may spend on the road per day and per week. The rule, which has essentially been in effect since 2004, allows truckers to drive for 11 hours and work no more than 14 consecutive hours each day. They must rest 10 hours between shifts, and may not work more than 60 hours a week.”

An audio report from 2007 on the issue of working hours is available at NPR

It is hard to see the justification for these safety rule changes but these are just two of many changes in place or being finalised in a rush.  Perhaps there is a grander strategy that the bigger perspective will show.  

The actions are disappointing but not without precedent.  It should be remembered that Democrat President, Bill Clinton, took full advantage of the opportunity.

In Australia and elsewhere, the movement to “cut red tape” gathers strength, it just seems that no one yet is applying the US solution of eliminating the regulatory need.

It is sad to see that throughout Bush’s tenure safety advocates and lobbyists  were not able to gain concessions.  It will be doubly difficulty to gain anything that may involve a cost to business in the current economic problems.  

The challenge will be even greater in Australia where the Safe Work Bill has been withdrawn from Parliament and the Government is willing to weaken election commitments, such as on climate change, due to the economic context.

In just over a month’s time, we will see how new President Barack Obama acts on safety; Australia has much longer to wait.

Passport to Safety in Australia Reply

Around the turn of the century a father told me this

“My son was 19 years old and he was killed in an accident in a small warehouse in a suburb of Toronto. In this little shop, it was a small business with only 4 or 5 people there. He got the job through a friend whose Father ran the business. It was the second or third day on the job and he was asked to go back and decant some fluid from a large drum to some small vessels. The action violated every OHS regulation in the book. There were multiple ignition sources, there was no grounding. A spark went off and lit up the fumes that went back in the drum and it exploded over my son. He died 24 hours later.”

That father was Canadian, Paul Kells, and this traumatic event set him on a journey to improve safety for young workers.  Paul established the Safe Communities Foundation.

Paul has travelled to Australia several times and he has been granted audiences with many OHS regulators but it seems that government of South Australia is the most ardent supporter of Paul’s Passport to Safety program.

Over 5000 students in South Australia have completed the program since 2005 and the government is trying to reach the target of 20,000 teenage students.  A sponsorship form is available for download.

SafetyAtWorkBlog supports Paul’s work and the sponsorship initiative of the South Australian government.

This is what the workplace safety ads in Australia are missing, a passionate advocate who speaks about the reality of workplace death and personal loss – someone who has turned grief into a social entrepreneurship.  If only this type of inspiration could happen without the cost of a life.

My 2000 interview with Paul is available by clicking on this link kell-interview.  It was originally published in SafetyAtWork magazine in February 2001.

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Deaths in isolated work camp from tropical storm Reply

It is relatively easy to manage a workplace in an urban environment.  The buildings stay in one place, the neighbours are almost always the same and the weather bureau provides plenty of warnings.  But in isolated areas, particularly in Australia, it seems the work environment is often more exposed.  Certainly this was the case in mid-March 2007 when Cyclone George hit a railway construction camp killing several workers and injuring twenty.

The camp accommodation of demountable units, called dongas, were supposedly cyclone-proof.  At the time, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said that administrative staff were evacuated but construction workers were directed to the dongas.

The owner of the worksite, Fortescue Metals Groups said on 11 December 2008 that it will fight 40 charges brought by Worksafe WA under the West Australian Occupational Health and Safety Act.

According to one media report:

“The charges include the failure to provide a safe work environment, failure to design and construct temporary accommodation and other buildings capable of withstanding a cyclone and failure to properly instruct and train workers.”

The installer of the demountable buildings, Sunbrood, had all charges dismissed.

The court case will continue in Western Australia in February and March next year.

A history of Australian trade unionism

Occupational Health and Safety in Australia is invariably related to the role of the trade union movement.  OHS legislation legislates a presence for the Health and Safety Representative in most jurisdictions and historically, the HSR has been a union member.

I suspect that union members still make up the largest proportion of HSR training courses.  HSRs are the shopfloor OHS enforcers.  Lord Robens acknowledged that a constant worksite presence was an important element of safety compliance and the union movement jumped at the chance of formal legislated presence.

Tom Brambles, the author of the article on the right, has just written a book entitled “Trade Unionism in Australia – A history from flood to ebb tide” (pictured below).  The book covers the union movement over the last 40 years and details some of the political campaigns that may have contributed to their decline. 

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Significantly for Australian workplaces, Bramble points out that union membership now lies at just under 20%.  In May 2008, Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon resigned as his personal approval rate hit 17%.   Brendan Nelson hit a 17% approval rating in August this year while he was Opposition Leader.  17% is a political benchmark for change and the union movement is approaching that figure.

For years, I have been questioning whether the political influence of the Australian trade union movement is justified; whether tripartism is of more historical relevance than contemporary; and how workplace safety can be adequately policed on the shopfloor when there are so few police.

Tom Bramble’s book is not about OHS but about the waning of an important societal element that was very important to OHS management systems.  Yes it’s about industrial relations but it is also about human resources and social campaigns and may provide some tips on how the  safety profession should, and should not, go about building a national presence and spreading its influence with key decision-makers.

Kevin Jones

This post first appeared in a slightly longer version in SafetyWeek – Issue 166 in early October 2008

A transcript of short piece that Tom Bramble read for Australia’s Radio National is available at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/perspective/stories/2008/2412452.htm

Injury Reporting Rates

Government OHS policies are, more often than not, based on statistics.  The most common statistic is workers’ compensation claims as they are trackable and involve money.   Another is fatality data.

Many countries have an obligation on employers to notify the proper authorities if a serious injury has occurred.  We know that in some countries injuries and deaths are under-reported.  In the legal, and illegal, coal mines in China, sometimes workplace deaths are actively disguised, ignored or denied.

Just this week, a Vietnam news service reported on the lack of injury reporting identified by the  Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs’ Labour Safety Department, in Vietnam.

The report says that “only 7,000 companies reported work-related accidents” for 2008 and that this equates to only 10 per cent of the reportable accidents.  Using the mathematical calculation skills of SafetyAtWorkBlog (an Arts graduate) that means that over 60,000 workplace injuries are not being reported.

Earlier this year a more explanatory article appeared which estimated 500 deaths each year form workplace incidents.

Perhaps there is some hope that if the government is aware of the lack of reporting, it can accommodate this in its national programme on labour protection, safety and hygiene that aims for a reduction of at least 5% in work incidents by 2010.

Inherently Dangerous 1

Every so often one will hear of an occupational that is “inherently dangerous”.  Every time we hear this or see the phrase in print we should protest loudly.  If a safety professional uses the term, they should be shunned.

Anything that is described as “inherently dangerous” reflects on the lazy thinking of the describer.  Working on a house roof was once inherently dangerous.  A firefighter running into a burning building was once (still is in the United States) an inherently dangerous activity.

Nothing is inherently dangerous when it comes to safety management.  Although it may be that a suitable control measure has yet to be devised, danger can be minimised or eliminated.  

The Confederation of Australian Motor Sports (CAMS) juxtaposes “inherently dangerous” with OHS in its policy:

The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport Ltd (CAMS) is committed to providing, so far as it is practicable, its stakeholders with a structured environment to minimise risks to health, safety and welfare. CAMS recognise that motor sport is inherently dangerous and will continue to strive to minimise risk to those involved through a shared and integrated approach to health and safety.

In a Brief History of Lighting in the US, the elimination of an inherent risk is amply illustrated with the move from gas lighting to electricity over time.

Around 1920, word was out that gas lighting was inherently dangerous and too many homes were burning down, and homeowners should remove their gas lighting and give the safer new-fangled electric lights a chance, even though electricity was probably just a fad.

“Inherently dangerous” dampens innovation (a buzzword in modern management) and should be avoided at all costs.  

One wonders how safe our world would have been if “inherently dangerous” was allowed to dominate our legislation in the way that “reasonably practicable” has.

Kevin Jones

Manual handling and childcare workers

Yesterday, a reader posted the following question

Are their any articles available on manual handling risk factors for workers in the childcare service industry (including programs for risk control)?

Below are some of the resources that are readily available in Australia, specifically on childcare.  In many cases the control measures employed for nurses overlap but in may OHS advisory and regulatory sites the hazards for nurses dominate the advice.

As an example of the dire need for accessible information in this area, there is a Canadian guide to “Health in Child Care Settings“.  It’s over 200 hundred pages with lots of great information.  The only mention of manual handling hazards for workers is 

“Use of proper lifting and transferring techniques can significantly reduce the risk of injury. Providers’ education in this area is essential.”

Yet we know that the medical evidence for safe lifting techniques is dubious.

There is a commercial DVD available at www.themedia.com.au  I would advise that playground equipment should be reviewed for durability AND ease of transport (there are many types of castor wheels with brakes available for heavy items) 

There is a training course that includes “Lifting Techniques & Manual Handling for Child Care Workers” available (in Australia – there are many more around the world)

In 2001 the Queensland OHS authority released  a guide called “Manual Tasks Involving the Handling of People Advisory Standard 2001“.  Again this reads very nurse-y but it specifically includes the handling of children.

Without knowing the background to the question – whether concerned with the handling of children or equipment – it is difficult to go further.  Perhaps the reader can provide more detail and we can see if other readers can help with specifics.

Kevin Jones