WorkSafe’s Homecoming Advertisements

‘Why is the most important reason for good workplace health and safety standards not at work at all?’ asks the Homecoming advertisement by implication.  Because the injured or killed worker will leave his/her family behind, or harm them if they are injured or killed.  S/he needs to think about them and the workplace H&S standard; about their pain and the OHS standard.  About them and his/her possibly unsafe behaviour at work so s/he can return home in one piece; return to them. And the imagery is of a patiently waiting young boy, waiting for his father at the front of the house holding a ball.  How desperate, lost and lonely that little boy would be if his father (in this case) was killed at work.  Your heart goes out to him and thereby an emotional driver has been activated.  And, in truth, tragically, such occasions do happen, too often.

Then the father appears and the boy smiles from ear to ear, we can feel the happiness permeating the ambrosia of human wellbeing.  Father has come home safe and sound, boy is happy, family is whole, healthy and safe.  I can’t remember, does mother peak smilingly from behind the corner as dinner simmers in the kitchen?  Your heart swells.  Good advert wouldn’t you say?

It’s very hard to change people’s behaviour.  It’s hard to get people to effectively achieve sustained improvements in anything.   Therefore, haven’t the marketers achieved a lot with this series of advertisements?

Let’s see:  first, are there likely to be any OHS improvements at work as a result of any of these ads?  I haven’t seen any, have you?  Think hard, what exactly has changed?

Secondly, have managers been touched by these ads so that they will now rush out and make dramatic OHS improvements?  After all, many of them are also family men and women, they too would be moved by these ads and rush out to fix their workplace.

I conduct workplace inspections on a continuous basis, yet I haven’t seen a single, new and sustainable improvement, let alone an improvement based on these ads.  Nothing has changed.  Thirdly, how have most workers responded to these ads?  As I see it, largely with ridicule, “Yeah, right mate, the most important reason…. bleah bleah bleah!”  Fourthly, how has the community at large responded?  Have there been marches in the streets demanding improvements to OHS standards?  even though there have been horrendous incidents both in Australia and NZ, just to mention a couple of places.  Fifthly, have politicians demanded specific and much higher OHS standards from their departments as a result of these ads?  In your dreams!

So what precisely has changed?  Bugger all that’s what’s changed.  Marketers’ view of themselves may have, but that’s all.  They’ll argue about increased awareness which is code for nothing at all.

Just consider the horrific recent incidents of workers losing limbs in poorly guarded machinery, (public information), such an old fashioned hazard that doesn’t take a genius to know how to fix, yet it continues to maim and kill (see Kandos, NSW).  We’re not talking of EMR/EMF or tricky new issues with nanotechnology.  This has to do with the absence of machine guards and proper working procedures in 2010!

So what is the point of these fancy – and very very expensive – advertisement campaigns?   Will your family members at work (workers) be safer now as a result?  Will – at least – people talk about the issues more effectively so that change will result?  Yeah right!

So what really is my problem?  Aside from the bullshit that passes for proper research in OHS as to what will really make sustained improvements, and the tangible degree of dishonesty in such adverts, and the harm they do (demeaning the fact that the most important reason to look after OHS standards is the wellbeing of workers), is the fact that regulators, politicians, marketing geniuses and all the hangers- on haven’t yet learnt to respect the real wisdom that resides in workers’ knowledge and experience, and learnt how to talk with workers at their workplace and at their job.

And constantly, daily, various managers stop such harvesting of that information, until a catastrophe happens, then workers are listened to with a deeply exaggerated attention.  Why?  ‘Because the health and safety of my workers is the most important factor at my workplace”.  Heard that before?!

Yossi Berger
National OHS Co-Ordinator
Australian Workers’ Union

Categories advertising, death, evidence, government, justice, OHS, research, safety, UncategorizedTags , , , ,

10 thoughts on “WorkSafe’s Homecoming Advertisements”

  1. The views I express are held by many people in the wider community – and this angst feeds into a much larger philosophical and ethical debate.

    These depictions of injured workers are not photographs in the normative sense of the word. They do not depict a photographic reality. The doctoring ( photo shop) work on the photographs of (good looking) models has created a fictional representation. The models are not injured workers with badly scarred faces, body parts and amputated limbs. Those workers who actually have these injuries are not shown.

    The ethical issue centres around the presenting of these fictional representations as real people. It is not apparent to the general public that these pictures are not real. This is a matter of integrity and honesty. Philosophically the whole issue of doctoring photographs turns on the moral issue of the ends justifying the means.

    In order for WorkSafe to use these images with integrity, the advertising should include a clear readable disclaimer stating that the images are fictional representations.

    (The fact that the Advertising Council of Australia has approved these pictures does not provide any level of comfort, because of community concern about sexist and racist themes constantly portrayed in all forms of advertising. There are countless examples of unacceptable advertising ).

    Occupational health and safety is a moral and humanist discipline. WorkSafe as the Regulator should be in the forefront of maintain high ethical standards in all aspects of its work – including advertising.

    Fergus Robinson

  2. Yossi, I think plenty of employers would welcome the steps you\’ve outlined. Guidance and assistance to control hazards is not as good as it could (or needs to) be.

    In defence of the ads though, there certainly are some careless workers out there, just as there are plenty of careless drivers. We\’ve all worked alongside them and because we\’re all human, I\’ll bet we\’ve all done some silly things ourselves.

    These ads don\’t blame the worker (as some of the worst BBS systems do) but they do remind all of us mere mortals of the cost of taking short cuts.

  3. Sadly I think it is going to take a family launching a civil action against the owners of a business, the shift supervisor -if there is one- and the OHSW person/team before anyone is going to understand that everyone has the right to a safe and productive workplace. Right now in a workplace workers are being pushed to meet orders in time for Christmas shut downs, corners will be cut, over time will be pushed, safety will be forgotten and lives will be put at risk or lives will be lost.

    Softly softly adverts do nothing, Safe Work Awards are meaningless when the workplace data/information is \”shaped\” to disguise the reality.

    The only thing that is going to ensure that safety guards are left on machinary is for the hip pocket nerve to be hit and hit hard.
    Civil action against the very people who are charged with the care and the safety of the workforce appears to me to be something that needs to be examined, because nothing else appears to be working.

  4. The next strategy? First, I\’d avoid any generic conversations about mysterious forces like \’occupational culture\’, \’safety behaviour\’, \’acceptable risk\’, OHS systems and other such linguistic embroideries.

    Next, I\’d organise hard-hitting, hazard-specific H&S campaigns that would start soft and end hard. Provide information and support to workplaces, nurture change….. and if that doesn\’t work ban the area where the dangerous hazard exists. Not too interested in prosecutions, but if the inspectorate has time, by all means. But carefully targeted bans will do it anyway.

    Get as much media coverage as possible.

    But the key will be to accurately identify genuinely dangerous hazards, hazards that workers, their families and the community at large will immediately understand as dangerous.

    For example, there are hundreds of thousands of conveyor belts and crushers used around the country. An enormous number don\’t have adequate machine guards (around the drive drum or crusher bin itself) or good working procedures. The number of limbs lost by workers and the occasional fatality attest to that.

    Campaign #1: give employers 7 days to fix such machine guards; provide them with written information about what needs to be done and how; provide contacts to engineering shops that will do such \’accredited\’ work. After that, if the job isn\’t done ban that operation on the spot.

    Who bans it? Run joint campaigns with the unions, industry and the regulator. This is a good thing to do together. Bend over backwards to help managers fix the problem; but after that, if it still isn\’t fixed it\’s banned.

    We need to be seen to fix specific hazards in a fair manner. That will send the message that workplaces must be civilised because human beings work there. If there is such a thing as \’occupational culture\’ – and I personally don\’t believe so – but if there is that\’s how it will improve, step by step by accurate improvements that convey that the OHS program is in good hands. If them hands aren\’t \’good OHS hands\’ no system will work, and if they are good hands just about any system will.

    But the proof and agent of change will be at the workplace not in the starved illusions of confused academics and their meaningless terms, or inexperienced experts mouthing the latest terminology on the block.

    Campaign #2: Respiratory hazards…… but that\’s another article.

  5. Yossi, I bristle whenever \”raising safety awareness\” is proposed. There is an implication that people are not aware of harm or choose to put themselves at risk.

    Your point is that the ads do not target those who are in control of the workplace or, at least, those who have the legislative responsibility for workplace safety. Perhaps advertising is just not the way to reach the business community, in the same way that TV advertising has limited appeal and impact on teenagers. But what is the alternative? We know that there are only so many inspectors that government is willing to fund and yet it seems to me that increased workplace safety presence is likely to have the required impact. This is part of the reason Robens introduced health & safety representatives.

    OHS regulators in Australia need to realise that they are coming close to the end of the ten-year National OHS Strategy with most not achieving the injury and fatality reduction targets that they committed to in 2002. They may point to their advertising \”successes\”, or the influx of new hazards, the rise of old hazards like bullying, or any number of excuses but the national strategy clearly strategy clearly states the targets:

    To reduce the incidence of work-related deaths by at least 20% by 30 June 2012.
    To reduce the incidence of workplace injury by at least 40% by 30 June 2012.

    If advertising and awareness-raising have not worked to the extent expected, what could the next strategy be?

  6. Nothing changes, and I can tell you why, no one listens to the stories of injured workers. No one wants to hear about the near miss that could have easily ended a life, no one wants to hear about the workplace bullying or the harassment. Go to any workers compensation conference and all you will hear is the good news stories, how with the full support of the family and the friends and the co-workers an injured worker was able to make a full and productive return to work with much fan fare. You will not hear about the number of injured workers who consider-attempt-complete suicide, you will not hear about the families members who can take no more pressure so they suicide.

    OHSW is at best a joke and a worst a waste of real time because no one pays any real attention to it.
    The only thing that is important is the bottom line of the business, safety rules and guidelines only get in the way of production time. It doesn\’t matter if the workplace is a factory floor or a high rise office or a supermarket or a fast food restaurant, all that matters is that the bottom line on the balance sheet shows a profit.

    Adverts that tell injured workers that they have a wondrous safety net call the workers compensation system soon find out that they have been lied to and will be lied about by those who are ill-informed.
    Return home adverts do nothing to ensure that safe working is considered important let alone adhered to.

    It is time that the system stopped listening to its own self importance and started to hear the stories I hear every day. It is time that the rights of injured workers were put before the dollars generated by the providers to the workers compensation systems.

    But what would I know, I am only a low-life injured worker who for the past 16 years have lived with a broken body and fought to get the workers compensation industry to shut up long enough to hear the pleas of the injured workers and their families.

    While the workers compensation systems advertise how good they are, none of them are ever going to be held to account, employers and workers are being ripped off and conned, but no one is listening and no one wants to hear.
    No one wants to know until they find themselves on the wrong side of WorkCover, and then they bleat that some one needs to fix the system and the process.

    I can shout as loud as I want to, but until the wider public understands the full impact of the con they have been fed, nothing will change.

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