Australian Prime Minister talks to the great unwashed Reply

The edge of panic is starting to appear in Australian concerns over swine flu.  Some health officials, who should know better, are slipping slightly off message.  The Queensland government’s chief medical officer has recommended that food should be stockpiled.  This was quickly jumped on by the Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, has tried to provide a more palatable context to the stockpiling:

“We want people to be aware of the risk of this disease, we want people to be taking sensible planning steps but we don’t want panic,” she said. “It’s very important that we don’t have a rush on products that people just during the course of their ordinary shopping might think about whether they have some of these extra supplies.”

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has offered some of the blandest, but relevant, advice:

“For all Australians to engage in the simple practice of washing their hands with soap on a regular basis.”

Kevin Rudd is not the poster boy for personal hygiene unless eating one’s earwax is a suitable hygiene practice.

SafetyAtWorkBlog will continue to watch for evidence of the effectiveness of handwashing in influenza control.

Roxon’s advice is sound however in one very important way – sensible planning steps.  Cut through the hyperbole.  Listen to reputable health advice, and keep your colleagues and employees informed.  If that happens, we’ll get through this threat.

Kevin Jones

Workplace safety can be funny 3

This week workplace safety on a building site received a much needed dose of humour.  The Australian show “ThankGod, You’re Here” had a comedian enter a pretend building site and have to face questions from an OHS inspector as if he was the owner of the site.

The sketch has added impact because of its timing.  It is hard to imagine this occurring ten years ago in a society and industry where OHS compliance was less valued, when hardhats were considered optional and when brightly-coloured vests looked stupid.  That the sketch is funny is a measure of how OHS regulation and enforcement has matured and just how successful the OHS regulators have been in changing the society’s attitudes to workplace safety in Australia.

Also, it shows something more illustrative of comedy, more true.  In the sketch there are some wonderful stunts done by a small earthmover.  Only last year there was outrage, and fines, over some forklift stunts done for real by a young driver in Melbourne.  The environment makes the difference between laughter and outrage.

The success of the TV show’s concept is also indicated by the issue of the 12-year-old welder on the building site.  The comedian, Merrick Watts, removes the issue of age by insisting the young boy is actually in his fifties and just looks younger.

WorkSafe Victoria, whose logo is worn by the pretend inspectors in the sketch, have said that they did not pay for brand placement and that the show did not belittle the work they do.  In fact the show “actually showed that we have a job to do and that there are good reasons for it.”

Kevin Jones

Safe Work Australia Awards – Interview with Rex Hoy Reply

Last night SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Rex Hoy, Group Manager with Safe Work Australia, the national safety awards night in Canberra.  A podcast of an exclusive interview with Rex is available now.

Rex Hoy speaking at Safe Work Australia Awards - 28 April 2009

Rex Hoy speaking at Safe Work Australia Awards - 28 April 2009

Safe Work Australia Awards 2008 1

Safe Work Australia is a fairly new configuration for  Australia’s OHS department but it’s awards have been going for some years.  On 28 April 2009 the awards were held in Canberra.  The timings don’t seem quite right but that is the scheduling of these sorts of things in Australia.

The award winners from the State events are nominated for national awards, usually, conducted six months later.  SafetytWorkBlog has written elsewhere  about the need to review this system.

The winners this evening were congratulated by the Workplace Relations Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Julie Gillard and were

The obvious peculiarity in the award winners is the absence of winners from Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland, states with large populations and/or large mining sectors.

The Dorsal Boutique Hotel gained considerable kudos in New South Wales’s awards in October 2008 with its bed elevator that reduces the need for housekeepers to bend when making the beds.  It is a good example of thinking further into the problem and asking why beds are designed the way they are and why can’t we change it.  It has a limited use but considerable appeal to the millions of hotels around the world.  More information can be found on the solution at the NSW WorkCover Awards site.

It is always more gratifying to see successful things rather than successful programs as the things are often transferable to many workplaces and are visual solutions to problems, sometimes problems we weren’t aware of.  Leadership and management awards are more a recognition that a company has taken safety seriously which has been a legislative requirement on business for decades.  There is little innovation to show in these areas.  More the award is for the fact that known techniques have been applied in difficult work situations or industry sectors or company configurations.

This is not to say the effort of the award winners is less valuable than tangible solutions but often these changes come from a changed management structure or a traumatic event or new focus from the board.  It is easier to understand the significance of these OHS “agents for change” when focusing on an individual achievement.  The award for Viki Coad is a great example of the difference one person can make.  It is these achievements that should be more widely applauded. 

Indeed readers could benefit greatly from looking at the State winners in this individual category for that is where inspiration can be found.

Kevin Jones

(Kevin was invited to attend the awards event by Safe Work Australia)

Handwashing as a risk control 2

Everyone knows that we are cleaner for the washing of our hands.  The childhood fibs of our parents that potatoes will grow behind our ears if we don’t wash there regularly have been pretty much dismissed.  There was little evidence for the benefits of washing behind our ears other than the authority and wisdom of parents but for most of one’s life that’s enough (or at least till we turn and mistrust everything our parents say).

In Australia, OHS has been pushing for evidence-based decision making.  Some have twisted this noble aim into short-term empire building on concepts such as a “body of knowledge” (- the more important question should be why do particular people want to control this knowledge in the first place).  But evidence is important and over the last few years some researchers have been seeking the evidence for the safety benefits of hand-washing in infection control, particularly during times of epidemics or pandemics.

The current swine flu scare (it remains a “scare” in many parts of the world) is generating recommendations on personal hygiene, as reported in SafetyAtWorkBlog on yesterday, but is there evidence or is hand-washing a comforting distraction?

Earlier this year Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman wrote:

The “Cover Your Cough” page on the CDC’s seasonal flu website begins this way:

Serious respiratory illnesses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are spread by: 

  •  
    • Coughing or sneezing
    • Unclean hands….

If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.

We have been unable to find a single study that supports this recommendation with regard to influenza. The World Health Organization Writing Group report on “Nonpharmaceutical Interventions for Pandemic Influenza” makes the same recommendation for flu specifically, but concedes that it has been made “more on the basis of plausible effectiveness than controlled studies.”

As for hand-washing, a Mayo Clinic publication on hand-washing includes flu on a list of infectious diseases “that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact.” The Government of Alberta’s “Influenza Self-Care” publication advises: “Wash Your Hands to Prevent Influenza…. Next to immunization, the single most important way to prevent influenza is to wash your hands often.”

But here’s what the World Health Organization Writing Group report says: “Most, but not all, controlled studies show a protective effect of handwashing in reducing upper respiratory infections…. Most of the infections studied were likely viral, but only a small percentage were due to influenza…. No studies appear to address influenza specifically.” 

The Lanard/Sandman article discusses at length the way that hand-washing may be affecting our approaches to other control measures such as vaccination.  It tries to cut through the hyperbole on influenza and if you are a health care worker, the full article is strongly recommended.

At the moment there is no clear evidence of the benefits of hand-washing and if this swine flu scare remains a scare for most people, one of the areas for further research should be the effectiveness, and role, of hand-washing in the control of pandemic infections.  It just may be that “universal precautions” should not be so unquestioningly universal.

Kevin Jones

Swine Flu – workplace preparations 2

There is swine flu information coming at us from all directions.  Thankfully in Australia the flu itself has not appeared from any direction but…

For those businesses that are not prepared for potential pandemics, don’t panic, but remember that you have known about this potential since before SARS and if you have not put any plans in place, it’s your own fault.

Now that the criticism is out of the way, if you are concerned, what you should do is hit the Australian internet sites that are relevant to pandemic preparation.  One particularly good and local (ie Australian) site is the Australian Government site on pandemic influenza.

There is a very useful Australian podcast on the issue available through ABC Radio.

It is also useful for companies in general to remind its employees about basic hygiene practices.  A particularly good source of work-related information on hygiene is at the government site for infection control for health care providers.

Dr Danilla Grando is a hygiene expert and Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology in the School of Applied Sciences at RMIT University in Melbourne and provides her take on this simple and effective hazard control measure 

wash_dry_hands“Research has shown that one of the most powerful weapons against the spread of respiratory illness, including any strain of influenza, is simply improving your hand hygiene.

We know that contact transmission is one of the key ways that people become infected by influenza. While flu is an airborne virus, people often fall sick from touching something that carries the influenza germs and then putting their hands in their mouths, often while eating.

Always washing your hands before meals is vital but using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser throughout the day is also extremely effective, and an essential tool in helping to prevent the spread of influenza.

Several years ago SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Peter Sandman, a world-renowned risk communicator.  He had been undertaking some work in Asia with the World Health Organisation around the bird-flu outbreaks.  He and Jody Lanard wrote a series of articles on communicating an imminent pandemic.  It should be obligatory reading for those at the forefront of public health initiatives at the moment but safety and risk managers may find some assistance in how to communicate with one’s own staff.

The initial response to the current swine flu is generating optimism and it is heartening to see so many government departments reacting in a planned way.  However we should remember the lessons of SARS and the lasting impact SARS had on travel and trade.

Click on the image below for a 2003 edition of Safety At Work magazine which includes several articles about SARS and pandemic risks generally.

Kevin Jones

419-cover

 

The tenuousness of safety culture Reply

Only a few days ago, SafetyAtWorkBlog questioned the usefulness of vision statements.  A leaked internal memorandum from the structural mechanical process division of John Holland reported in the Australian media on 27 April 2009 shows just how tenuous such statements can be.

According to an article in the Australian Financial Review (not available online, page 3), the divisional general manager, Brendan Petersen, listed 81 injuries to subcontractors and employees and 51 near-misses in 2008.  The memo acknowledges that the situation is “unsatisfactory and unacceptable” and Petersen makes a commitment to “do something about it”.

The trade unions have jumped on this memo as an indication that John Holland is not living up to its principles, although there is a lot of irrelevant and mischievous industrial relations baggage behind any of the current union statements about John Holland’s operations.

Petersen’s memo admits that, as well as his division’s performance being unacceptable

“we also have sites that consistently allow work activities to be undertaken in an uncontrolled or unsafe manner, sites that don’t take employee concerns about unsafe workplace conditions seriously and sites that don’t report near misses so as to learn from them and ensure the situations never re-occur again.”

That such an established company with such an active program of safety management acknowledges these deficiencies is of great concern.

On being asked about the memo, Stephen Sasse, John Holland’s general manager for HR, spoke of optimism and the safety efforts introduced since the 6 April memo however, behind his words is an acknowledgement that the safety culture has not been supported.

“To an extent [the memo] is an exhortation to middle management and supervision, and to an extent it is a warning that we cannot tolerate staff who do not share the John Holland values around safety…”

The John Holland values are listed on their website as 

  • “Commit to the successful completion of a wide variety of construction, mining, services and engineering projects through our specialist and regional construction businesses 
  • Commit to continuous improvement in all we do 
  • Understand our clients’ businesses
  • Achieve our vision of “No Harm” through safe and responsible work practices 
  • Build and maintain open lines of communication with our people’ our partners and our clients
  • Provide excellent returns to our stakeholders
  • Create an environment where our people are challenged, motivated and satisfied
  • Conduct business ethically, honestly and with diligence at all times”

The No Harm value is expanded upon through it’s “Passport to Safety” program.

In the AFR article, it is noted that Comcare currently has four federal court prosecutions occurring against members of the John Holland Group.

It seems trendy to broadcast the values of a company’s safety management system as if they are new and unique to their companies when, in fact, many of the values reflect legislative obligations under OHS law.  The trap that many companies are facing is that reality does not match the ideal, and may never do so.

A strong argument can be made to be a quiet achiever on workplace safety – to just get down and get managing – without trumpeting the values that can become an embarrassment when the real world pierces the academic fog of the MBA.  Perhaps true safety leadership comes from those who do it on the shop floor rather than than those who advocate it in the boardroom.

Kevin Jones

Vision statements = hypocrisy (mostly) Reply

 I have experienced two situations recently which made me question the value of corporate mission statements.

Recently the CEO of an Australian company spoke about how safety was a core value and how committed to safety she was.   She is a recognised leader in safety and directly involves herself in safety management and meetings. However, her employees in the audience were shaking their heads because the safety culture she espoused was not as widespread through the company structure as she believed.

The other situation was a staff meeting I attended with a regional CEO and International CEO where they were unaware that employees in regional offices and undertaking shiftwork had not been integrated into the corporation. In fact the shiftworkers had not been informed of the CEO visits until the last minute.  The company has “integration” as a corporate value.

Leadership (a most dubiously-applied concept in my mind) and vision statements may “come from the top” but they do not flow by themselves to the four corners of a company. They must be worked on, almost as a full time mission.

Vision statements have been promoted in so many corporations that have fallen over through mismanagement that statements have become a bit of a joke, in most circumstances.   Nothing kills motivation quicker than hypocrisy.

(This also occurs in organisations that begin a program of corporate restructure and positioning, and the first item on the agenda is a “sexy new logo.)

It is important to remember that Enron’s motto was “Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.”  If one thinks that Enron is an unfair corporate example, look at one’s own company statement and seriously ask yourself whether all elements of the company are operating to those standards.  Perhaps, someone needs to provide corporate morality audits.

Lastly, any vision statement must accept and mention that the principal aim of any company is to make money (a fact I learnt from Peter Sandman).  To omit this reality immediately shows that the statement is not grounded and is simply management spin.

Kevin Jones

Two serious incidents in Victoria Reply

In the days leading up to International Worker’s Day, their is a heightened sensitivity about workplace incidents.  Today, 20 April 2009, there were two incidents in Victoria that have involved emergency air ambulance flights to Melbourne.  One is being undertaken as this blog article is being written.

The Rural Ambulance service has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that a 53-year-old logger has been crushed under a log on Black Range Rd, Narbethong this afternoon.  He has a fractured pelvis and rib injuries and is being airlifted to a city hospital.  Narbethong was affected by the savage bushfires on 7 February 2009 about which a Royal Commission is investigating

The welding explosion incident reported by the ABC apparently occurred at a depot of the Department of Sustainability & Environment at Alexandra.  The incident involved a petrol explosion.  The 31-year-old male was airlifted to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

Kevin Jones

“Getting back on the (trauma) horse” Reply

Mental health in the workplace is one of those recent manifestations of psychosocial hazards.  It continues to evolve and during this process one is never quite sure where the best and most relevant information can be obtained.

Cnfusion for the safety professional can come from new, slightly off-topic, issues that can skew the public perception and understanding of exactly what it is one is trying to manage.

Is it reasonable to take inspiration (if that is the right term) from studies of Iraq War sufferers of post traumatic stress syndrome in providing clues to handling mental health issues at work?  

During tertiary risk management courses the debt owed to the armed forces and their planning processes is acknowledged but soldiers operate in a unique culture of accountability, clearly defined duties and a rigid hierarchical structure.  In most circumstances only the broadest of concepts could be translated to the real (non-militarised) workplace.  In a similar way studies of Scandinavian workforce management are interesting but are highly unlikley to be transferable outside the cultural geography.

A very recent example of this problem of getting excited about innovation and then wondering about its genuine applicability, can be seen in the TV show, Catalyst, (video available online for a short time) broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on 16 April 2009.  

The program provides a profile on a computer simulation program that purports to aid the rehabilitation of war veterans by returning them to traumatic events of the war zone.  It seems that the theory is the same as “getting back on the horse that threw you”.

In OHS terms, the applicability for firefighters, emergency response personnel etc is obvious but SafetyAtWorkBlog has reservations.  The use of video simulations and games by the armed services before, during and after combat is discomforting.  

Managers and health care professionals may need to carry some of the responsibility for the cloudiness of mental health and trauma by applying the hyperbole of trauma to relatively benign workplace issues.  Many elements of work are being described as traumatic when they are not.  They maybe disturbing, disconcerting or even harmful but there is a big difference between being punched in the face by a psych patient and driving over a car of civilians in an armoured vehicle.

In other industry sectors, such hyperbole would be described as spin.  It is the responsibility of OHS professionals to cut through the spin and not be distracted by “exciting”, but indirect, innovative solutions.  Let’s look for the evidence and operate from what we know works.  At least until new evidence appears.

Kevin Jones