Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) conducted an online conference under the title SafeFest. The intention was to challenge the established orthodoxy of workplace health and safety. One of the conference’s first speakers was David Whitefield talking about safety as a “wicked problem”. It is a perspective that occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals have heard before but it is one that is an important reminder.
Last week’s article on the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of Working From Home (WFH) reminded me of a report from late 2019 that I always meant to write about but forgot. In November 2019 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released a report called Telework in the 21st century: An evolutionary perspective. It ‘s a collection of articles on teleworking from around the world and, although it is pre-COVID19, it remains fairly contemporary on telework and WFH practices and risks.
On September 12 2020, The Australian’s workplace relations journalist Ewin Hannan wrote about working from home (WFH), a reasonable topic as many Australians have been asked to do this, often at the request of the State Government, in order to reduce and control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The structure of the article centred on the additional costs and risks to employers from having workers work from home, especially in relation to potential injuries and workers’ compensation. This perspective on occupational health and safety (OHS) is seriously skewed, but it reflects the dominant perspective in the media and the community. A little bit more research would have provided a more accurate picture about Working From Home.
[This article was originally published in 2008 and it shows. I sound “up myself” and apologise. But the point about open-mindedness in workplace health and safety is as valid as it was 12 years ago]
I established my occupational health and safety (OHS) consultancy on the principal that I am not an expert but a General OHS Practitioner. My skill was to identify workplace hazards that businesses didn’t recognize or didn’t understand. I could also present recommendations in plain English and reports that were stripped of unnecessary technicalities. Occasionally, usually on issues of chemicals, I would contract a colleague of mine who had the required expertise, but my aim was to be a general jack of all trades and expert of none.
This position has probably developed into a business philosophy. One that seems to be supported by the way business and OHS is evolving. Today there is less of a delineation between workplace safety, human resources, industrial relations, organisational behaviour, environment, quality management and social or psychological issues than ever before. Business advisers are trying to break down the silo structure of management but the silo structure of intellectual disciplines continues. This may be because we are all so busy that we have no time to spend talking with other disciplines. It may be that our revenues come from our own specific turfs and we don’t want to let our clients know that there may be other approaches to problem solving that we can’t provide. It may be that we are happy in our intellectual comfort zones.
If I have learnt anything from my experience is that the world is a web of social connections. Some strands of the web are thicker than others. Some connections are further from the central core than others but there is a pathway to everywhere from everywhere else. That is why I get frustrated when people disparage what they don’t understand.
It is time for me to make a confession. I will come out as a reader of FORTEAN TIMES. When you next go to a large newsagency, look for Fortean Times. It will be located with the nerdy flying saucer expose magazines. If you are lucky, it may be located next to Scientific American or Nature. The magazine reports on bizarre occurrences from raining frogs, alien big cats, bigfoot, conspiracy theories, parapsychology and many other fringe concepts. Thankfully UFO matters are minimised. I have read this magazine for over 20 years. (You can start sending the sympathy cards now.)Continue reading “A “Fortean” Approach to Safety Management”
Seven years ago, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) suffered a spike of workplace deaths in the construction sector. The then WorkSafe Commissioner produced a report, supported by at least one conference and extensive consultation, which proposed substantial changes. All of the recommendations from the 2012 Getting Home Safely report were accepted by the government and construction had no deaths for several years after but recent deaths have resurrected tensions between the ACT Government and the Master Builders Association (MBA).