Meditation is a proven stress reduction method for workplaces 3

Meditation is not on the regular agenda at SafetyAtWorkBlog.  If there was time to meditate, the time would probably be spent losing weight in the gym but there is fascinating research that provides some evidence of meditation’s benefit  in reducing work-related stress.

At the Safety Conference in Sydney at the end of  October 2009, Dr Ramesh Manocha of Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women will release research that

“found that after eight weeks of mental silence meditation training called sahaja yoga, occupational stress scores improved [decreased?] 26 per cent.  A non-mental silence relaxation program reaped a 13 per cent gain, while a waiting list control group lifted just 1 per cent.”

The language sounds slightly “new-age” but what makes the difference in this circumstance is that the initial research was undertaken with three groups mentioned above and, importantly, with a control group.

Below is a TV interview with Dr Manocha on the first stage of research.

When looking at workplace stress, people reduce stressors but Dr Manocha says this often requires impossible organisation restructuring due to internal political pressures.  These techniques can be applied on a personal level that employees can take with them through their various life-stages.

Dr Manocha then applied the meditation training in real corporate situations.  According to a media release provided in the lead-up to the conference:

“In a later field trial of mental silence meditation by 520 doctors and lawyers, more than half of the participants whose psychological state (K10) scores indicated they were “at risk” were reclassified as “low risk” after two weeks of meditation.”

It’s the application of this meditation in the workplace context that gained the attention of  SafetyAtWorkBlog and what will be presented at the conference.  The gentle skepticism evident in the TV interview above is understandable but in a time when safety professionals demand evidence, we must look seriously at evidence when it is presented.

More information on The Safety Conference is available HERE.

Kevin Jones

Australian survey on attitudes to OHS and laws 1

Firstly there is an apology for having statistics dominate SafetyAtWorkBlog this week however everything became available all at once.

An earlier article mentioned some recent OHS statistics that have been released by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.  Below is the SafetyAtWorkBlog interpretation of the survey report.

The survey was undertaken by an independent research firm using a representative sample of the Australian population.  It was not taken, like some previous ACTU surveys, from the trade union membership exclusively.  In some respects the generality makes the survey results more interesting and some more broadly relevant.

67% of respondents were not aware that the governments are coordinating the standardisation of OHS laws.

67% believe that workplace safety is important, but only 40% see it as “very important”.

85% were not aware that workplace deaths (quoted from an unreferenced Government report) are “four times the annual road toll”.

80% think more should be done about OHS.  However, if this question was asked after the previous one that compares workplace death to the road toll, the high response is not unexpected.  Also the report gives no indication  of who is expected to do something about OHS – government? employer? individual? sea urchins?

The issue of “red tape” was specifically asked in the question.  It would have been interesting to have the question remain at just its core so it was a clear agree or disagree response:

“Do you agree or disagree that employers should have to do more to protect the health and safety of their workers (even if it means more costs or red tape for their business)?”

69% said that if they are injured at work, they should be able to take court action under OHS laws against an employer.

One would have to ask the purpose of  this question.  Don’t people trust that OHS regulators would take legal action on the part of the injured workers?

Not all the questions in the survey report are mentioned above but lets take away the trade union context of the survey results for the moment.

OHS regulators claim that their extensive and expensive advertising campaigns are generating an increased awareness of OHS in the community. Two thirds of a population believing OHS is important is a good result but how much of this awareness has been generated by government advertising, increased media reporting of incidents, union activism or some other reason?  An analysis or further research would be useful.

Workplace deaths occur more often than road fatalities.  Is this a fair comparison?  Driving a car on a country road is a very different activity to driving a forklift in a cold store, for instance.

More should be done about workplace safety but would the respondent take on the responsibility themselves?  A clarification of this response would have occurred by comparing it with the employer question above, without the red tape distraction.  But what would the union movement had said to a response that may indicate an overall happiness with how employers manage safety?

The Australian trade union movement has continued its campaign against the operation of harmonised OHS laws by marches on 1 September.  The first draft of the harmonised OHS laws will be available in a couple of weeks.  Around a month after that is Safe Work Australia Week.  The next two months promise to be a busy period of heightened debate (or lobbying and spin) on OHS laws.

Kevin Jones

SafetyAtWorkBlog would like to thank the ACTU for making the survey report available and we look forward to many more surveys from unions and employer groups that hopefully clarify people’s attitudes and approaches to safety.

I’m left handed. Am I safe? 3

Recently a New Zealand OHS discussion forum carried a request for people to participate in research to determine whether “handedness” – whether one was left- or right-handed – could be a contributory factor in being injured at work.

The survey period has closed. Robyn Parkin, the researcher, and SafetyAtWorkBlog agreed not to post about the research until now, as Robyn wanted to survey New Zealanders.  Robyn describes her research project as looking at

“…whether New Zealand companies consider handedness as a potential contributing factor for accidents, and if so, what size companies are more likely to consider this factor”

Robyn is concerned that the design of workplaces, workstations and plant may not have considered the way a left-handed person, for instance, may operate a machine, or whether the emergency stop can only be reached with one’s right hand.

Left-handedness exists in around 10% of the population and there are many OHS or community designs that accommodate the needs a similar small minority.  As with many other reseacrh projects, Robyn’s investigation into the potential role of handedness at work causes all of us to look at our own workplaces from a fresh perspective.  And that has got to be good.

Robyn is happy to discuss her research with others by email.

Kevin Jones

Australian Statistics – Part 4 – Shiftwork 3

Safe Work Australia has released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia.  These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from ShiftworkThe last of the four statistical reports looks at shiftwork.

The impact of shiftwork on work-related injuries in Australia

The main findings of this report are summarised below:

  • In 2005–06, 16% of Australian workers worked under shift arrangements yet they had 27% of the work-related injuries.
  • Shiftworkers had higher rates of work-related injury than non-shiftworkers.
    • Incidence rates
      • Shiftworkers: 114 injuries per 1000 shiftworkers
      • Non-shiftworkers: 60 injuries per 1000 non-shiftworkers
    • Frequency rates
      • Shiftworkers: 69 injuries per million hours worked
      • Non-shiftworkers: 35 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers had higher frequency rates of work-related injury than male shiftworkers. This finding is counter to the rates of work-related injury in male and female non-shiftworkers.
    • Shiftworkers
      • Female: 81 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 62 injuries per million hours worked
    • Non-shiftworkers
      • Female: 31 injuries per million hours worked
      • Male: 37 injuries per million hours worked
  • Female shiftworkers were particularly at risk of work-related injuries in Clerical, sales and service occupations, while male shiftworkers were particularly at risk in Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • Both shiftworkers and non-shiftworkers were more likely to incur work-related injuries during their first six months of employment than after their first six months of employment. Furthermore, a greater proportion of injuries that occurred to shiftworkers occurred in the first 6 months of employment than occurred to non-shiftworkers in the same initial period of employment.
  • The frequency rate of work-related injuries that occurred to shiftworkers is negatively related to normal working hours: Shiftworkers that worked only a few shifts per week had considerably higher frequency rates of work-related injury compared to shiftworkers (and non-shiftworkers) whose normal working hours were between 35 and 40 hours per week.
  • Shiftworkers who worked less than 30 hours per week were typically young (less than 25 years old) and large proportions worked in Elementary clerical, sales and service worker, Intermediate clerical, sales and service and Labourer and related worker occupations.
  • High incidence rates of injury were not due to lack of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) training. More shiftworkers received OHS training than not, and a greater proportion of shiftworkers received OHS training than non-shiftworkers.

Australian Statistics – Part 3 – Injury data comparison 2

Safe Work Australia was released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia. These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from ComparisonwithNDSThis report is a comparison of two data sets in the hope that the report provides a more accurate picture of workplace injury rates than just that based on workers’ compensation claims.

NDS =National Data Set for Compensation based Statistics

WRIS = Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Work-Related Injuries

A detailed explanation of the sources and purposes of these data sets is in the full report.

Comparison of compensation data with all incurred work-related injuries

Comparison of the WRIS with published data on serious claims from the NDS indicates that the NDS represents only one in five work-related injuries occurring each year. In addition, this analysis has shown that the NDS collected information on only 63% of the injuries that involved a week or more off work in 2005–06. The analysis in this report, however, shows that the NDS still provides useful information on the characteristics of work-related injuries

To enable a more robust comparison, the two datasets were scoped to only include injuries with similar periods of time lost (one working week for the NDS and five or more days for the WRIS). The following points were observed

  • The NDS incidence rate for male employees was 80% of the WRIS rate but for female employees the NDS incidence rate was only 60% of the WRIS rate. This indicates that in 2005–06 female workers were less likely to claim workers’ compensation than male workers
  • While the two datasets produced similar incidence rates for age groups involving workers over 25 years of age, the NDS recorded only half the incidence rate of the WRIS for workers aged less than 25 years. This indicates that in 2005–06 young people were less likely to claim workers’ compensation than older workers
  • Both datasets indicated that the highest incidence rates in 2005–06 were recorded by the Agriculture, forestry and fishing, Manufacturing, Construction, Transport and storage and Mining industries. However, comparison of the two datasets indicates that the NDS underestimated incidence rates in the Retail trade, Health and community services, Education and Government administration and defence industries

These industries had high proportions of employees who were eligible for workers’ compensation and hence the data indicates that employees in these industries were less likely to claim workers’ compensation than those in other industries

  • Both datasets indicated the highest incidence rates by occupation groups were recorded by Labourers and related workers, Intermediate production and transport workers and Tradespersons and related workers. However, the data show that the NDS underestimates incidence rates for Managers and administrators
  • The way in which injuries occurred was similar between the two datasets, with 42% of injuries due to lifting, pushing and pulling objects
  • The two datasets agreed that the main type of injury was Sprains and strains. However, the analysis showed that the NDS only captured one in three injuries involving Stress or other mental condition and one in two injuries involving Fractures, Cut/open wound or Chronic joint or muscle condition

Australian Statistics – Part 2 – Workers’ Compensation 1

Safe Work Australia was released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia. These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Factors affecting applications for workers’ compensation

Pages from WCapplicationsThis report has identified several factors that affected the likelihood of employees making workers’ compensation claims and the reasons for not applying for workers’ compensation following a work-related injury. These include:

Sex

Female employees were less likely to apply for workers’ compensation for their work-related injury than male employees.

Of injuries that involved some time lost from work, 52% of female employees did not apply for compensation compared to 46% of male employees.

Reasons for not applying

Male and female employees did not apply for compensation for nearly four tenths of their injuries that involved some time lost from work because they considered the injury too minor to claim. For a further one-tenth of these injuries, male and female employees felt it was inconvenient or too much effort to apply.

Male employees did not apply for compensation for over two in ten injuries because they did not know they were eligible for compensation.

For female employees, nearly two in ten did not apply due to concerns about their current or future employment.

Age

Young female employees were least likely to claim workers’ compensation while males aged 45–54 years were most likely to claim compensation for injuries that involved some time lost from work.

Type of injury

The type of injury had little impact on whether an injured employee applied for workers’ compensation except in cases that involved stress or other mental conditions. While around half of all injuries that involved some time lost from work were claimed, injuries that involved stress were only claimed in 36% of cases.

Duration of employment

There was little difference in the percentage of employees who claimed workers’ compensation based on employment duration: employees with less than one year of employment claimed workers’ compensation for 52% of their time lost injuries compared to 47% of time lost injuries for those with more than one year of employment.

Alternative sources of financial assistance

Regular sick leave was used by nearly two in ten injured employees who did not apply for workers’ compensation

One in ten accessed government payments such as Medicare and Centrelink payments.

Full-time / part-time employment

Of the injuries incurred by full-time employees that involved some time lost from work, 47% applied for workers’ compensation compared to 53% of part time employees.

Unlike full-time employees, one of the main reasons why part-time employees did not apply for compensation was due to concern about current or future employment.

Leave entitlements

Of the injuries to employees with paid leave entitlements that involved some time lost from work, 56% applied for workers’ compensation compared to just 43% of employees without paid leave entitlements.

Injured employees without paid leave entitlements were three times as likely to think they were not eligible for workers’ compensation as employees with paid leave entitlements.

Australian Statistics – Part 1 – Employment Conditions Reply

Safe Work Australia was released four statistical reports into worker health in Australia.  These are important and useful reports that will assist many companies and safety professionals to better address workplace hazards.

Pages from EmploymentconditionsSafetyAtWorkBlog is going to present some of the data in four blog articles, without commentary or interpretation, which is the usual approach.  Each article will be the summary of findings from each report.  Readers are strongly encouraged to download and read the full reports (links to each will be included in each article) as the summaries do not fully reflect the complexity of the analysis.

We want to thank the Safe Work Australia for their decision to provide such data.  It is an optimistic sign of improved communication for the national organisation.

The impact of employment conditions on work-related injuries in Australia

Employment status

  • Employees accounted for 88% of the total workforce in 2005-06.  Employees recorded a higher incidence rate of work-related injury compared to Employers or Own account workers (E/OAWs): 71 injuries per 1000 employees compared to 52 injuries per 1000 E/OAWs.
  • Employees recorded higher incidence rates in all industries except the Construction industry where similar rates were recorded for the two employment types.
  • Employees recorded higher incidence rates in all occupations except for Managers and administrators where E/OAWs recorded 76 injuries per 1000 workers compared to 53 for Employees.
  • Male employees recorded an incidence rate 1.4 times the rate for female employees whereas male E/OAWs recorded an incidence rate twice the rate of female E/OAWs.
  • E/OAWs recorded 19 injuries per 1000 E/OAWs for injuries involving five days or more compared to 21 for Employees.

Leave entitlements

  • Employees with leave entitlements recorded higher incidence rates of injury (76 injuries per 1000 workers) than employees without leave entitlements (66 injuries per million hours worked).
  • When hours of work were examined, it was found that full-time workers experienced the same frequency rate of injury regardless of whether they had access to paid leave or not. The same pattern was observed for part-time workers, though frequency rates for part-time workers were double those of full-time workers.
  • Male employees without leave entitlements recorded the highest frequency rates of work-related injury, substantially above male employees with leave entitlements and higher than female employees without leave entitlements.
  • Male and female frequency rates for employees with leave entitlements were similar.
  • Employees with leave entitlements recorded higher incidence rates than Employees without leave entitlements in all occupations. However, by industry employees without leave entitlements recorded higher rates in the agriculture, forestry and fishing and property and business service industries.

Full-time / Part-time

  • Part-time workers recorded a frequency rate of work-related injury more than twice the rate for full-time workers: 74 injuries per million hours worked compared to 35 for full-time workers.
  • Male part-time workers had higher rates of injury than female part-time workers.
  • Young part-time workers, who were less than 25 years old, had a higher rate of injury than older part-time workers.

In Australia OHS management is red tape 2

The Australian newspaper of 1 September 2009 epitomised the ideological problems with OHS in a business management context.  Page 5 has two articles next to each other:

Renewed pledge to cut business regulation” and

Building chief ‘spat on an abused‘”.

The first article reports on a speech by the Competition Minister, Craig Emerson, where it is reported that the Minister

“has pledged his commitment to removing unnecessary regulation that hampered business”.

The Minister was speaking to a business audience and has been described as less friendly to regulation than his predecessor.  OHS compliance is often bundled as an element of unnecessary business paperwork by employer and industry groups however, in this speech, the Minister spoke more of open markets.

The second article focuses on an attack on the head of the much-hated Australian Building & Construction Commission, John Lloyd, but also reports on the national union protest scheduled for 1 September 2009, concerning the weakening of OHS laws through the harmonisation process.

The article reports on a union survey:

“Unions commissioned a poll that showed 78 per cent of those surveyed agreed employers should do more to protect the health and safety of their workers, even if it led to increased costs or red tape.”

That unions would even accept that OHS compliance could be considered red tape is a great concern, and the phrase is taken directly from the ACTU media release.

Union Survey figures

SafetyAtWorkBlog is endeavouring to obtain the original survey results (over 1000 respondents (workers) taken in the last week of August 2009) but for the moment it is worth quoting ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence’s interpretation of the statistics.

“… this poll shows the Australian public don’t want workplace safety rights undermined.”

“The poll shows there is significant support in the Australian community for stronger rights and protections for workers and an ongoing role for unions in checking workplaces where employees are worried they are in danger.

“The poll finds 81 per cent of those surveyed agreed workers should have the right to call in help from a union to check on health and safety issues regardless of their employer’s approval.

“Seven out of ten Australians (69%) believe that injured workers should be able to take their employer to court under workplace health and safety laws.”

Business and government in Australia are harmonising OHS laws to reduce the red tape business compliance costs.  Unions believe that OHS red tape and increased business cost is acceptable.

What does this leave the safety professional who says that they can minimise the red tape associated with OHS compliance AND that safety is not a cost but an investment?  Out in the cold with the Victorian WorkCover Minister, it is suggested.

Kevin Jones

Do You Have a Policy on the Use of MP3 Players? 2

The National Transportation Safety Administration estimates that at least 25% of all automobile accidents are caused by distracted drivers.  Research has already proven that listening to music through earbuds or headphones while driving is a distraction and becoming a leading cause of vehicle incidents.  It is, in fact, now illegal to use earbuds or headphones in the states of California and New York while operating a motor vehicle.

In Australia similar research, by insurance companies, notes the same findings.  A spokesman for NRMA Insurance, John Hallal, stated that “Drivers should always be alert to what is happening around them, and by using headphones, the driver is likely to be less aware of the surrounding traffic conditions.  Headphones can totally block out other sounds. You won’t hear a siren, you won’t hear a horn – and that can be dangerous.”

So is there a good solution?  Auto makers are increasingly offering jacks to support MP3 players in their vehicles. Some have more integrated systems that allow iPod or MP3 playlists to be displayed on the dashboard and operated through buttons mounted on the steering wheel.  The problem is, not all people are buying new vehicles in a time of recession and don’t have the option for plugging their iPod or MP3 player into their vehicle.  Furthermore, drivers are still tempted to change songs on the console or MP3 player and turn their music louder; again a possible distraction while operating a motor vehicle. Driving with earbuds or headphones is considered a potential distraction/hazard and can lead to motor vehicle accidents under certain conditions.

Operators of any motor vehicle should be able to hear traffic and be aware of any driving hazards around them.  This means that any distractions while driving should be eliminated to include using earbuds or headphones. For the safety of yourself, your family and others sharing the road, your attention must be dedicated to driving the car.

Another question that arises is whether or not it’s safe to use MP3 players in the workplace. Increasingly, workers are wearing earbuds or headphones to block out background noise and distractions around them. Some workers find it helps reduce stress and boredom which could lead to greater productivity and worker morale.  But is it safe?

Wearing an MP3 player could be a potential hazard in situations where the cord could be caught in a piece of machinery.  Often workers with long hair are required to tie back their hair for the same reason.  An MP3 player could also influence the path taken by electricity in the same manner as wearing metal jewellery.

The safe use of MP3 players can be managed by setting a clear policy.  Although completely banning the use of MP3 players may remove the risk to injury, for tasks that are repetitive or monotonous it can keep a worker stimulated and more productive.

In conclusion, Employers need to assess the injury risk to reward potential that MP3 players pose for a specific setting or activity.  There is no blanket answer that can be applied and safety is also not the only issue, communication breakdowns among workers can develop and theft of proprietary information are just two other considerations.

Pamela Cowan

The importance of handling professional complaints professionally 3

Any member of any profession can be subject to the complaints process of that profession’s governing body.  A complaints procedure is an essential element of any organisation.  In fact, one could argue that the professionalism and maturity of an organisation can be judged by how that organisation investigates and handles a complaint.

Not only must a complaint be handled professionally, it must be seen to be handled professionally.

Regardless of whether a complaint is valid or baseless, it is essential to have

  • Clear guidelines on how to make a complaint and the consequences of lodging a complaint;
  • Defined complaints handling procedures;
  • Complaints procedures that have been tested through desktop exercises and simulations;
  • An independent assessor/mediator;
  • An understanding that of natural justice;
  • An independent appeals process; and
  • The commitment to support, in practice, the professional ideals espoused.

Many executives, particularly of volunteer organisations whose good intentions are often not supported by the necessary administrative procedures, resources or skills, run the risk of exacerbating both frivolous and valid complaints.

As can be seen by some of the articles in SafetyAtWorkBlog, from James Hardie Industries to restorative justice to handling aggressive customers, people expect a certain dignity and accountability in their professional dealings.  A major element of safety management, and basic professionalism, is the ability to apologise when mistakes have been made.  For only through an acknowledgement of mistakes can the integrity of a process be (re)established.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has shown the power of the apology when he acknowledged in 2008 the injustices done to Australia’s indigenous population.  It took courage to apologise for actions done long ago by someone else.  The ability to apologise shows a maturity and professionalism that is still lacking from many Australian organisations, voluntary and corporate.

Kevin Jones