Working longer means staying healthy longer Reply

It is rare for anything of great relevance to occupational health and safety to come from the annual budget statement of the Australian government.  There is nothing directly relevant from the statement issued earlier this week except for the lifting of the retirement age to 67 in 2023.

Compulsory retirement age does not mean that people stop working.  If that was the case, farming and the Courts would be very different organisations.  The retirement age has more to do with financial independence or the pension eligibility than anything else but the government’s decision has focused the media and commentators on the fact that people will be working beyond traditional retirement age.

The announcement this week also supported the reality that has been increasing for many people for over a year now that the level of retirement income has plummeted because of the global economic recession.  People have a growing financial need to work, not simply a desire.

This will change the way that worker health will be managed by companies and by the individual.  Watch for even more interest in “the best companies to work for” campaigns.  In fact it should not be long before someone starts marketing on the theme of “is your health up to working into your seventies?”

This morning a package of interesting statistics were presented to a breakfast seminar held by Douglas Workplace & Litigation Lawyers.  One of the regular speakers, Ira Galushkin, provided the following Australian statistics

  • High risk employees (5+ Risks) are at work but not productive 32.7% of the time compared to low risk employees (0-2 Risks) who are not productive 14.5% of the time.
  • The productivity difference between health and unhealthy employees is therefore 18.2% or 45 days per annum.
  • High risk employees average 5.1 hours/month absence versus 2.4 hours/month for low risk employees.  This amounts to 32.4 hours (over 4 days) days per annum.
  • Healthy employees average 1-2 sick days per annum versus 18 days for those in the lowest health and wellbeing category.
  • The unhealthiest employees are productive for only about 49 hours out of each month compared to around 140 hours/month for the most healthy.
  • Poor health can account for an average 5% loss in productivity across the entire Australian workforce with the unhealthiest group reporting a 13% drop in productivity. About half [of] this is related to chronic conditions such as headaches, hay fever and neck/back pain,whilst half can be accounted for by lifestyle factors such as inactivity, smoking, obesity etc

All of this information shows the importance of workers maintaining their own fitness in order to live longer, but also to be able to present a case, if necessary, about their own productivity levels and how they have been saving their employer big dollars.

If we need to be able to work till older than previously, we will want to stay in a job we enjoy and that values us.  Some longterm health planning may be required by all of us.

Kevin Jones

Workplace bullying possibly increasing 3

A United States report draws a parallel between increasingly difficult economic situations and an increase in workplace bullying.   This video report is lightweight but is a recent airing of the issue with a different approach.

The angle taken in the story is that of a “pink elephant” that women are just as likely to bully their workmates as men are.  Some of the speakers in the video try to relate female bullying to issues of female empowerment but bullying is more often a reflection of personal nastiness than a social movement.

Bullying received increased focus when workplace culture emerged but rather than a gender issue, our increasing intolerance for bullying is coming from a broader cultural movement than just through the workplace.

The video report originated through research undertaken by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an organisation that has existed for sometime and has very recently upgraded its website.

Kevin Jones

Big fine for go-kart death 3

The AAP and others are reporting a big fine over the death of Lydia Carter whilst driving a go-kart at a work function held in Port Melbourne in 2006.  The significance of the $A1.4 million fine is that the company, AAA Auscarts Imports Pty Ltd,  is not a large or multinational corporation.

Ms Carter was wearing a seat belt that did not fit properly and safety barriers on the track had been incorrectly installed.  

Judge Duncan Allen said 

“There is no doubt in my mind that (Auscarts) not only was fully aware of the risk, but was fully aware of the ways to reduce them” 

“The company showed a gross disregard concerning the safety of employees and the public.”

For OHS professionals this case, which ended today (12 May 2009) in the Victorian County Court, will generate a fair degree of attention because of the fine’s size.  However, from the information currently available, the case seems one of the go-kart company having a work environment that was unsafe for customers, the company being aware of this and not doing enough to fix it.

SafetyAtWorkBlog is also looking  into how Ms Carter’s death has changed her employer’s organisation, what effect it had on her colleagues, what policy changes have been made, amongst other matters.

The judgement will also be made available as soon as possible.

Kevin Jones

What a good safety management system looks like 2

I’m a big fan of minimising the rehashing of OH&S guides. In my WorkSafe Victoria days (the latter ones when I was doing guidance material editing) I did what I could to encourage adoption of other people’s good work.

cover indg275[1]And just today I found an example of a British Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guide on what a sexy SMS looks like that I think is about as good as it gets; particularly in the context of giving an OH&S newbie an excellent sense of what it means to deal with OH&S in a systematic way.

Loved the focus on critical questions to ask about key elements of an SMS; as opposed to a common bad habit of doing the thing I call a “knowledge dump” – asking every question you can think of that has any sort of relationship to the topic at hand.

Loved the way the guide related smart SMS evaluation to real-world business decisions. I gotta say (obviously with the benefit of hindsight) that governments are pretty hopeless at “relating” to business in guidance material. It’s a waste of white space to keep telling a reader why it’s awful to hurt workers. It’s a waste because the reader wouldn’t be a reader if they weren’t concerned about that.

The HSE guide takes the approach of comparing SMS decisions to day-to-day business decisions. Take for example these questions from the guide: “How much are you spending on health and safety and are you getting value for money? How much money are you losing by not managing health and safety?”  These are just a couple of examples of business-savvy questions in the guide. They show the author knows full well that crappy OH&S  management costs big bucks and they cut straight to the chase on questions about costs and losses. But, cleverly, the author leaves it at that, and includes other business related questions. A good move.

I’ve found (and I have to say I was surprised to find this out) that my clients – almost all small businesses – are not “consumed” by profitability. They want their businesses to work, they want to be able to pay their bills, but I’ve found that there is lots of angst about hurting workers. (Hmm…rather than go on anymore about this topic of small business motivators for safety, I think I’ll leave it for a separate post.) Back to the guide.

What is a real stand-out in the guide is the minimal use of the lazy adjectives like “suitable” and “appropriate”. We in OH&S-World use those mostly useless adjectives way too much in guidance material. The author of the guide avoids them like the plague. Grab yourself a free copy from ttp://tinyurl.com/obwzrg .

Col Finnie
col@finiohs.com
www.finiohs.com

Varanus Island investigations continue Reply

International safety attention was focused on a tiny island of the northwest Australian cost in mid-June 2008 when a pipeline exploded.  Investigation reports have been presented to government and companies have regained operations after the major gas explosion that disrupted supplies across Western Australia.

In early May 2009, the WA Department of Mines & Petroleum announced a further investigation will be undertaken. WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore has said that the department would carry out the final stage of investigations into the  explosion.

Kym Bills and David Agostini have been classified officially as inspectors and will undertake the investigation.

Moore said that the October 2008 report by NOPSA needed additional information which has recently become available.

 “…that investigation was limited by its reporting time frame and the absence of critical evidence, such as the results from destructive and non-destructive testing of the pipeline.”

A ministerial media release identifies the investigation’s scope:

  • the pertinent sequence of events on Varanus Island during the incident
  • the likely cause(s) of the incident
  • any actions and omissions by the operator of the Varanus Island facility, or its contractors, leading up to and during the incident that may have contributed to those events.

The final report will be presented to the department in June 2009.

Background on Varanus Island is available in SafetyAtWorkBlog by searching “Varanus” as a keyword.

Kevin Jones

Australia’s OHS harmonisation likely to fall 1

Media reports on 11 May 2009 do not provide optimism for the introduction of harmonised OHS laws in Australia.  The Australian reports that the ACTU is lobbying Federal ministers over the reports into the model OHS law that are scheduled to be discussed at the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on 18 May.

The unions believe that following the recommendations of the review panel will provide workers with lesser standard of safety protection than they currently have.

The government has been slow is responding to the recommendations of the review panel, an odd action given the tight reform timeline they set.  However, the government has shown that timelines are flexible even when the future of humanity is threatened by climate change.

The ACTU will be campaigning in the media this week against the weakening of OHS laws, particularly the extremist laws of New South Wales.  Whether this is an ambit claim or not will be found out next week but whatever it is it shows regrettable shortsightedness on the part of the ACTU.

The Australian Financial Review (page 5, 11 May 2009, article not available online) seems to take some glee in the fact that the safety laws are “shaky”.  The paper may be caught between watching the Government’s agenda failing again or advocating legislative change to reduce the operational costs of its readers.  The AFR reports that three States are digging in against the possible OHS law reforms.  New South Wales (largely seen as dominated by the trade unions), Queensland (new IR Minster Cameron Dick wants the State’s reverse onus of proof to be applied) and Western Australia have indicated a hesitance to accept.

The Federal Government needs a two-thirds majority for the national OHS legislation to occur and, with a week to go, SafetyAtWorkBlog expects the government to apply some horsetrading  for the new laws to pass. 

Having said that noone yet knows what the new laws are that will be proposed.  The Government has received the review panel reports but has yet to respond to the recommendations.

Any law reform focused on national harmonisation is unlikely to succeed unless there is unanimous support for the reforms.  The fear all along with the OHS laws is that agreement will be short-term until state governments decide that their industries or industrial relations situation have special needs and responds parochially and weakens the national strategy.

The challenge for the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, is to achieve unanimity AND lock in State support for several years so that harmony and stability can be achieved.  OHS law reform on this scale occurs rarely and all parties should be looking at the long term on this issue rather than their own state-based petty power struggles.  We have to wait till early next week to see which States have the mature politicians.

Kevin Jones

Passive smoking and casino workers Reply

Smoke-free workplaces have gained considerable attention over the last few years but many countries allow exemptions for casinos.  This makes no health sense but considerable political and revenue sense.   The  American Lung Association has released a video story about one non-smoking casino worker who has suffered lung cancer, Vinnie Rennich.  (The 16meg flash video is available for download)

Safety Innovation – doing the hard yards 1

Kevin’s stuff on the latest Safe Work Australia Awards got me thinking about an issue I have had a bee in me bonnet about for a while now.  It’s safety innovation, and the glaring hole in Australia for support for the hardest innovation of the lot – safety product development.  By “safety product” I’m specifically referring to development of equipment or systems intended for sale.

As far as I can discover, Australian OH&S awards tend to focus on the entirely worthy thing of endorsing solutions that are readily adopted and are ideas that have a record of successful implementation.  There is no doubt that the safety award system finds excellent ideas used all over the place.  But the key issue here is that these innovations, relatively speaking, sell themselves.  They have been implemented and are proven “winners” in the sense of being a successful safety idea.

What seems to be missing is support for a small-scale product developer who has an excellent product prototype that hasn’t the convenience of a proven safety track record.  I’ve had the privilege (and sometimes the terrible angst) of trying to help out safety product developers, solo- or micro-businesses that are plugging away at getting a marketable product up and running.

Any product development is expensive, and in the absence of a larger company budget to “take the hits”, the small operator has to wear lots of pain to get a product to the point that it can be put on the market.

General support for all sorts of product development is often made available by various government agencies.  In Victoria, Innovic is the government organization that does good work in helping promote good ideas.  They have a specific award program for very new ideas called “The Next Big Thing”.  

It’s a great system, that invites applications from around the world but it’s still limited, by virtue of it (like the current OH&S regulator safety awards) being mostly an endorsement.  And, sure, a developer can benefit from endorsement. But from my experience, the small operator is mostly in need of advice and funding to keep a product idea alive.  This is where I think the OH&S regulatory agencies could really have a positive impact on safety product innovation in Australia.

I’m suggesting that contributions from each of the Australian OH&S agencies to a fund to support safety product developers with a specialised new product award could be managed by Safe Work Australia.  That fund would have to be fair dinkum.  It would need to have the resources to draw on expertise from product development specialists.  It would have to have prizes that matter.  Options could include funding to have winners attend the very excellent programs much like the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) provided around Australia.) The award system could include in the prize a fully funded 12-month part time course that does a similar thing to NEISS. 

But that is all very well, but a good idea is a worthless idea if it can’t be funded.  Cash is the thing a product developer needs.  Ten thousand dollar prizes is about the sort of cash I think would start to come close to being useful.  Keep in mind that taking out second mortgages on homes and other severe financial burdens are par for the course for a product developer.  Ten grand is not going to keep a developer afloat, but it may well be the difference between an idea withering vs it being made available to everyone.

And I recognise this sort of support for people trying to get a product on the market is high risk.  If a product development program got up there’s bound to be some failures and that has to be accepted as the cost of taking risks.  But maybe it’s time for the OH&S regulators to stick their neck out in this area?  Australians have had a pretty good history of coming up with new ideas, and there is lots of rhetoric about backing product innovation. It would be excellent to see more examples of regulators being prepared to do the hard yards on safety product development.

Col Finnie
www.finiohs.com

Fearing the invisible – selling nanotechnology hazards 2

The community is not getting as concerned about nanotechnology as expected (or perhaps as needed).  There is the occasional scare and the Australian unions have relaunched their campaign on the hazards of nanotechnology manufacturing.  There have been several articles about the potential ecosystem damage of nanotechnology in our waterways.  Frequently, it can be heard that nanotechnology is the new asbestos.

Nanotechnology is a new technology and all new things should be used with caution.  It is odd that none of the nanotechnology protests seem to be gaining much traction.

Part of the problem is that nanotechnology is invisible and how do people become concerned about the invisible?  This is a point of difference from the asbestos comparison.  Asbestos was turned into asbestos products – from dust to roofing.  But nanotechnology goes from invisible to items such as socks.  The public see new improved versions of common items, nanotechnology is used in familiar items, but the public does not see the nanotechnology and therefore does not comprehend nanotechnology as a potential hazard.

It may be useful to jump back before asbestos to look for new communication techniques for warning consumers about the invisible.

In 1998 Nancy Tome published “The Gospel of Germs“.  Tome looks at the slow realisation in the first half of last century by the public that germs and microbes exist and can cause harm.  She is not interested in the germs themselves but how society accepted their existence and how they reacted.  This reaction – improved hygiene, infection control, disinfectant, etc – can provide us with some clues as to how society embraces the invisible, particularly if the invisible can make us sick.

Nancy Tomes wrote the book in the time when AIDS was new.  But since then SARS is new, Swine Flu is new and other pandemics will become new to a generation who have only known good health and good hygiene.  Now we are creating invisible things that we know can have positive benefits but we don’t know the cost of the benefit.

It is perhaps time for the OHS lobbyists to take a page or two from the public health promotion manual (and Tome’s book) and begin to explain rather than warn.  Nanotechnology is not asbestos and the comparison is unhelpful.  The application of nanotechnology will be in far more products than was asbestos and the nanotechnology is smaller.

If the lobbyists can make the invisible visible then progress will be much quicker.

Kevin Jones

Groundwork for employee engagement 2

Safety professionals should be suspicious of many management trends.  Over the last decade behavioural-based safety has been popular and more recently workplaces have been subjected to the application of amorphous concepts such as leadership and engagement.  Many of these are dressing up old approaches to management in new jargon,  some have little evidence to back up their claims.

At the end of April 2009 the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) identified limits to the application of employee engagement.  A SIOP statement said 

 Study after study has shown that an engaged workforce is considered desirable in any organization and leads to greater productivity and profitability. In short, There seems to be no downside to employee engagement. However, Thomas Britt, an industrial-organizational psychology professor at Clemson University, cautions there are some limits to employee engagement that managers should consider.

Britt acknowledges that employees who are actively involved in the management and decision-making of their company provide greater productivity and profitability. In modern parlance, engagement is good.  But he identifies several issues that should be considered.

“If [engaged workers] are not getting the resources they feel they need to perform at their best, their engagement may be diminished.”

So worker enthusiasm and initiative needs to be adequately supported.

Britt said performance could be restricted by

  • lack of budget and equipment support,
  • access to important information,
  • work overload,
  • unclear objectives and goals, and
  • assigning employees’ tasks that don’t fit their training.

SIOP said 

Britt’s research shows engaged employees are likely to become frustrated and dissatisfied and may blame their supervisors if they do not have the systems and support necessary to be effective. Given the higher pro-activity and energy levels of engaged employees, this frustration could lead to turnover as they begin to look for more supportive work environments. “The ones who stay behind may well be the ones who just don’t care,” said Britt.

 Work overload can lead directly to burnout.  According to SIOP, Britt said

 “highly motivated employees are willing to go beyond the call of duty to help the organization, but when temporary overload continues and they repeatedly fail to meet their own high expectations, their motivation becomes directed at locating other job possibilities, leaving the organization at risk of losing key talent.”

The impediments to an engaged workforce can often be missed in the enthusiasm of the engagement evangelists It is important not to dismiss the enthusiasm but to temper it so that any benefits are long term.  For any new management approaches to work, there must be adequate groundwork so that the participants know the reasons for change, this will help the new approach succeed.

In short, business needs to acknowledge that consultation is a basis for improvement not a communication method of telling people about change.  As SafetyAtWorkBlog has said consultation occurs in preparation for change as well as during and after.  Thomas Britt and SIOP have provided excellent ideas of the areas of threat for an employee engagement program.

More information may be available at  www.siop.org.

Kevin Jones