New Bachelor degree in OHS 6

A new Bachelor degree in OHS is being offered at the University of Queensland.  Professor of Occupational Health and Safety Mike Capra says in a media release that

“graduates would become a new generation of highly-trained OHS specialists who would be in demand due to a workforce shortage.”

The New South Wales WorkCover has had to remind employers not to cut corners on safety due to the tough economic climate.  With the unemployment rate increasing in Australia, the demand claimed by Professor Capra is disputable.

The issue of employability was raised in a discussion forum recently.  One person pointed out that employers are able to be more selective.  When they have to choose between a graduate fresh from university or an applicant with experience, experience will win every time.

It will be interesting to see what programs the Bachelor Degree has in place to provide the necessary practical experience.

Hopefully on graduation in 2015, the career opportunities have improved with a stronger economy.

Professor Capra is quoted further.

“The program was developed at the request of the OHS industry, including peak body the Safety Institute of Australia, which saw the need for a professional qualification in the field,” Professor Capra said.  “The lack of well-qualified OHS professionals is causing alarm among members of major OHS associations, government authorities and employers.”

The biggest motivation for improved professionalism has come from WorkSafe Victoria through the Health and Safety Professionals Alliance, and only within the last couple of years.  It is is the “alarm” of the OHS regulator that seems to have been the biggest factor.  At least WorkSafe  is willing to fund the development of such a program having provided a grant of almost $A400,000 recently.

Some of the claims in the promotional video for the course are dubious (“never be out of a job”, for example) and the video could pass, in parts, for a tourism ad, but if the target audience is school leavers, the focus on fun, sun and job variety is probably relevant.

If it is the first course of its kind in Australia, as claimed, it will be very interesting to watch how it is received.

Kevin Jones

UK’s HSE wants OHS professionals to be accredited 3

In early July 2009, the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Judith Hackitt spoke in favour of an accreditation system for OHS professionals.  This has particular relevance for those countries and professionals associations which follow some of the UK initiatives.

Hackitt is quoted in the HSE media release said:

“We do believe that there is a need for an accreditation system within the competency framework for health and safety professionals. We have no interest in HSE directly controlling or regulating such a scheme, but we are very keen to ensure that all professional bodies who establish an accreditation scheme do so in a way that measures competence in practice, not just acquired knowledge.

“Accreditation must include continuing professional development as a requirement as well as a means of sanction, with real teeth, for anyone who acts unethically in their professional activities – including providing inappropriate advice or guidance.”

She said that those involved in health and safety needed to be competent to assess and manage risk by applying common sense, taking a proportionate approach and exercising judgment about what is reasonable.

Competence is one of the cornerstones of the new health and safety strategy for Great Britain, and HSE wants to see increased competence as the basis of a more sensible and proportionate approach to managing risk.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog asked the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) for their response on the issues raised in Hackitt’s speech.  The response is below

Richard Jones, IOSH’s policy and technical director, said: “IOSH has long advocated some form of official accreditation of the health and safety profession. It is something that has been mooted for many years, but has never had formal government support, so has never got off the ground.

“The present system in the UK means that anyone can operate as a health and safety consultant. This means some businesses are likely to be getting advice from health and safety consultants with inadequate qualifications and experience or none at all. We feel this is wrong. You wouldn’t have an unqualified doctor looking after your medical needs, so why should you put lives at risk because of incompetent health and safety advice.

“Employers have repeatedly asked for better guidance on how to identify competent assistance, so they can be sure they’re getting good quality health and safety advice. We believe an accreditation scheme will help reassure them about the competence and suitability of the person they’re engaging.”

Richard added: “IOSH has been actively pushing the need for accreditation for some years now, in evidence to two select Committee Inquiries, through our ‘Get the best’ campaign and lobbying activities, and more recently through our ‘manifesto’. We’ve had discussions with government, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), MPs and other stakeholders on the need for an accreditation system for health and safety practitioners.

“We believe the majority of consultants are doing good work and providing a valuable service. IOSH’s professional development scheme helps ensure our members keep their knowledge and skills at a satisfactory level. However, the scheme obviously doesn’t apply to those who aren’t members of IOSH. Our hope is that an accreditation scheme will mean that all those working in the health and safety field have sufficient qualification, skills and knowledge to do the job properly and are maintaining these on a regular basis.

“At a meeting on 21 July, representatives from the HSE and key health and safety organisations came together to discuss an accreditation scheme for health and safety consultants. These stakeholders will now form a ‘steering group’ looking to take the proposal forward. It is hoped that an accreditation scheme could be introduced by around autumn 2010.”

Some Australian readers may want to keep an internet eye on the Australian OHS professionals’ alliance HaSPA.

Kevin Jones

Tasmanian Premier talks of workers compensation fairness Reply

On 26 July 2009, the Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett spoke at the Tasmanian ALP conference.  Below is an extract from his speech in which he refers to the State’s review of workers compensation, the Clayton Report, and reflects the national industrial relations agenda by emphasising the Australian Labor Party’s favourite word of the day – “fair”.

“Delegates,

Not only must we act to keep Tasmanians safer on our roads – but so too in our workplaces.

The Labor Party began as we shall continue – as representatives of the working men and women of Tasmania.

That is why I am pleased that we have finally been able to reform the workers compensation provisions in this State, to return a fairer balance and provide the protection that workers deserve.

I have met people as Premier who have suffered terrible injuries at work.

I met a man last year who’d lost all the fingers on one hand, and yet had not been able to access the level of worker’s compensation that he so clearly and richly deserved.

That is not fair, and that’s why we’re changing it.

Unlike our opponents, who enthusiastically supported the flawed and unfair WorkChoices regime, we stand for a fair go for Tasmanian workers.

Some will say we’ve gone too far.  But this is about decency and dignity.

And it’s about respect for working people, and providing workers with the support and protections that they deserve.”

Kevin Jones

National scaffolding campaign Reply

This week a national scaffolding safety campaign was launched in Australia.  There are several sources for new and useful information about the campaign, two are below.

Mike Hammond of law firm, Deacons, has written a backgrounder on the need for the campaign and how to prepare for the compliance visits.  Hammond lists the key messages form the campaign as

  • “The campaign is designed to ensure compliance with existing workplace safety laws in relation to scaffolding;
  • Increase industry awareness of the safety issues associated with using unsafe scaffolding;
  • Recent incidents have highlighted a need to be vigilant when erecting, altering, using and dismantling scaffolding; and
  • A wide range of trades that use scaffolding are exposed to significant risks of death and injury when the scaffolding does not comply with AS 1576.”

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Nina Lyhne said in a media release on 24 July 2009 that

“The construction industry is a high risk industry. Sadly, we still see a large number of injuries and deaths on construction sites.

WorkSafe [WA] focuses a lot of attention on education as well as on enforcement to reinforce the need for improved safety.  Recent scaffolding incidents have led to the death of a number of workers and seriously injured others across Australia.

Industry is being advised of the intervention campaign, and inspectors from WA will be undertaking inspections over two months from 1 August to 30 September.”

Kevin Jones

New old US research into driving and talking Reply

The New York Times has revealed research on the hazards of driving and using mobile phones that was withheld since 2003.   The newspaper understandably focuses on the intrigue that prevented the report from being released but the content of the report has the potential to substantially change how companies “manage” the hazard of their staff using mobile phones whilst driving. Pages from original

The report, obtained through Freedom of Information and made available on the newspaper’s website, was a  substantial project for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and, according to NYTimes:

“The research mirrors other studies about the dangers of multitasking behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.”

The full report is available by clicking on the image in this post.

Kevin Jones

BHP Billiton’s safety record is again in the Australian media 2

BHP Billiton’s production report has generated some OHS-related interest in the Australian business media on 23 July 2009, but not all.  [SafetyAtWorkBlog has written several pieces about BHP Billiton‘s safety record]

The company’s iron ore production has fallen short of its May 2009 guidance.  Iron ore is the only division where production has dropped.  The Age newspaper reports that the five deaths “forced a production slowdown” and noted the Western Australian government’s review of BHP’s safety management.

Malcolm Maiden’s commentary in the same newspaper mentions the BHP production results but describes the five workplace fatalities as “production glitches”.   He writes

“Production glitches for both companies [BHP Billiton & Rio Tinto] might have been handled better if their iron ore operations were merged, as is now proposed.”

Safety management may have been improved.  Rio Tinto’s OHS performance is considerably better but the description of the fatalities as “production glitches” is cold.

This contrasts considerably with the coverage provided to the BHP results by the Australian Financial Review (AFR) which listed the issue on the  front page  with the headline “Poor safety record hits BHP output” (full article not available online without a subscription).  AFR says

“the safety issues overshadowed better than expected results from BHP’s petroleum and  metallurgical coal units….”

There was no overshadowing according to the writers in The Age.

The AFR article identifies a raft of safety matters that illustrates well the OHS status of BHP Billiton and emphasises just how serious the workplace fatalities are.

  • “Tensions with the WA government [over a variety of issues, including safety] have escalated…”
  • Seven BHP workers died in Australia and South Africa in 2008/09.
  • “Eleven BHP staff… died while on the job in 2008.”
  • On 22 July 2009 WA Minister for Mines & Petroleum, Norman Moore, praised BHP’s efforts to improve safety but said “It is very difficult to understand sometimes why fatalities occur within the safety frameworks that operate in most major mining companies…” said on 22 July 2009

Warren Edney, an analyst with the Royal Bank of Scotland and occasional media commentator, spoke in relation to the safety record of BHP’s Pilbara operations, where five workers died.  He said in the AFR article:

“It’s better than Chinese underground coalmining but that’s not a big tick, is it?… In part you’d say that we’ve undergone this mining boom in WA so you’ve got workers who haven’t had the safety brainwashing that other parts of the workforce may have had over the last 10 years.  Part of it reflects that and part of it may be that people get pressed to do things quicker.” [my emphasis]

It seems odd to compare the safety performance of an open-cut Australian iron ore mine with “Chinese underground coalmining”.  Similarly describing safety education and training as “safety brainwashing” is unusual.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has contacted the Royal Bank of Scotland for clarification of Warren Edney’s comments.

The AFR has almost been leading the Australian media pack on reporting of safety management in 2009,  partly due to the OHS harmonisation regulatory program and its impact on business costs.  This may also be due to some of the concerns about increased union activity on worksites under the new industrial relations legislation.  The AFR should be congratulated for discussing the OHS context of BHP’s iron ore production figures and providing a front page prominence.

Kevin Jones

Behavioural-based safety is no different to traditional safety management Reply

Sometime ago SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote that “engagement” was just a new term for “consultation”.  Rebadging or rebranding occurs in the safety discipline as much as any other but our internet ears pricked up at some recent comments in a  Canadian podcast from Safety Excellence.

Shawn Galloway and Terry of ProACT Safety is discussing traditional approaches to safety management and how they fit into his philosophy of safety excellence.  They say this about behavioural-based safety (BBS):

“[People] come back in with advanced strategies, like behavior-based safety and it’s the same old thing.  Everything on the behavior-based safety list is already covered by a rule or procedure in traditional safety.

A lot of times it’s an admission of failure of their traditional safety program…”

It is refreshing to hear a BBS specialist acknowledge that the role for BBS is to progress safety beyond compliance and that compliance strategies, what Galloway describes as “traditional safety”, are fundamental to a company’s safe operation.

For those enlightened safety professionals who seek a deeper understanding of their discipline thr0ugh alternate perspectives, this particular podcast is very good.

The full podcasts are often worth listening to as they discuss safety culture issues, performance indicators and many more of the current safety management concepts.

Kevin Jones

A study of violence Reply

Australian writer, Jeff Sparrow, recently recently a book that looks at violence and killing , “Killing: A Misadvanture In Violence“.  As part of promoting the book he has been interviewed on several radio shows, the one most relevant to SafetyAtWorkBlog, is the 3CR program, Stick Together, about his book.

Killing_fullcover_NEW.inddSparrow says that he wanted to investigate the “normalisation of killing” and l0oks at occupation which have killing as part of the job.  He analysed the killing of animals through the first-hand experience of kangaroo-shooting and visiting an abattoir.

Sparrow says that the abattoir was very much a factory that deconstructs animals rather than manufacturing items, such as cars.  This will be no revelation to anyone who has read Eric Schlosser’s book, Fast Food Nation, in which he analyses abattoirs, particularly meatpacking, in the context of food production.  Schlosser’s section on the worker safety and compensation processes in the US meat industry is confronting.

They are also possibly more directly relevant to OHS (or heartless capitalism) than Sparrow’s take on abattoirs, although Sparrow does mention how the structure of the workplace “controls the workers”.  This harks back to the dehumanisation of workers for the purpose of productivity where repetition makes the reality of the action of killing or dismemberment, mundane.

In comparison, the roo-shooters have a more detailed understanding of their “craft” because they are working in the wild, where things can go wrong, instead of on the killing floor.

Sparrow also looks at killing that is undertaken in other occupations, such as the defence forces, and workplaces, such as deathrow.  In these contexts Sparrow talks about the industrialisation of the war processes.

Ultimately, from the workplace perspective, Sparrow’s book sounds like an interesting resource for those who study the depersonalisation of the worker, or industrialisation.  For those who work on, or have responsibility for, production lines, this psychological approach to the book may help.

Kevin Jones

A sample chapter of the book is available for download.

The myth of the three-hour sleep Reply

The Australian media has widely reported that Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, exists on three-hours sleep per night.  He doesn’t and Professor Drew Dawson, a prominent Australian sleep researcher, discusses the exaggeration of high-flying professionals in an article at Crikey.com on 21 July 2009.

More research of  Professor Drew Dawson, Director, Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia, is available online.

Absence management data misses the OHS mark Reply

Managing workplace absenteeism often ignores the OHS issues that are integral to the issue.

4926AbsenceSRWEB2 coverOn 20 July 2009 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development released its findings on the issue in its annual Absence Management Survey.

The media statement identifies the reasons for short- and long-term absences.

  • “The main causes of short-term absence are minor illnesses such as colds and flu, stress and musculoskeletal conditions
  • The main causes of long-term absence are acute medical conditions, stress and mental health conditions and musculoskeletal conditions and back pain.”

However, the media statement identifies no measures to counter these workplace hazards, preferring to focus on ancillary factors such as job security.

Willmott focuses on a comparison between absenteeism in the public and private sectors.  The difference is statistically interesting, perhaps, but does not address the causes of absenteeism.

Willmot also illustrates the dominant HR position on absenteeism.

“Effective absence management involves finding a balance between providing support to help employees with health problems stay in and return to work and taking consistent and firm action against employees that try and take advantage of organisations’ occupational sick pay schemes.”

This manages the effect of the problem but not the problem itself which CIPD’s own research has identified as musculoskeletal conditions, stress, mental health and, to a lesser extent, colds and flu.

The comments by the Senior Public Policy Adviser for the CIPD, BenWillmott, are a good example of how some human resources or management organisations miss the health and safety element.

The CIPD does acknowledge the importance of workplace health and safety as illustrated by its reply to the Health & Safety Executive’s draft strategy.  It also says in the Absence Management Survey that, in the return-to-work context:

“The involvement of occupational health professionals is identified as the most effective approach for managing long-term absence…”

However even though it sees itself as the “professional and accreditation body for the UK HR profession [which represents] over 130,000 HR professionals at every level of business and in every sector”, it hesitates to take a leadership role in health and safety.  It’s a pity because applying the apparent professionalism of the Institute and its membership strength to OHS could achieve great social and business efficiencies.

For those wanting to look at comparison data, CIPD makes available its previous surveys for download.

Kevin Jones