CCH and Freehills produce a curate’s egg of an OHS book

CCH Australia has a long history as a prominent publisher on occupational health and safety issues but its latest book is a “curate’s egg”.

Australian law firm, Freehills, has always been very involved with CCH’s “Master occupational, or work, health and safety  guides but the 2012 edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide is a more obvious marketing tool for Freehills than previous editions.  The books have long had a back page advertisement.  This year’s back page is devoted entirely to Freehills. The early pages of this edition include ten of photos of Freehills authors contributors with another eight of other non-Freehills authors before any useful text appears.  It is difficult to see the need for such prominence when names alone have been sufficient in books for decades.

The book is also much more graphical and pictorial than previous editions but CCH’s decision to keep the book’s contents in black and white is less than impressive.  Some of the monochrome photos in the Manual Tasks chapter are indistinct. Previous OHS books like CCH’s 2003 Australian Master OHS and Environment Guide had no graphics so colour was not missed.  The lack of colour was a poor decision for this book.

The chapters on the model Work Health and Safety laws are less interesting than those sections dealing specifically with hazards.  This book is a good introduction to many of the OHS issues that safety professionals will deal with or need to be aware.  One recently graduated work colleague found the chapter on Plant Safety particularly good but basic.  The information on the WHS laws seems familiar, and similar information is likely to be available from a much cheaper source or from reputable online sources.

Bullying and Violence Chapter

Dipping into the chapter on Bullying and Violence, Chapter 21, the authors, Sue Chennell and Anthony Masciangioli, give considerable weight to the draft 2011 Code of Practice – Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying but understate the Code’s draft status.  There is also no mention that the Code has been withdrawn until after the Parliament Inquiry into Workplace Bullying concludes.  Book production takes time but the Code was withdrawn in early 2012, months before this book was published.

The chapter does, however, provide a good summary of the Brodie Panlock case and usefully points out that for those States who are operating under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, similar actions by work colleagues

“could be prosecuted as reckless category 1 offences which can attract the highest financial penalties and possible terms of imprisonment.” ( page 474)

In discussing possible control measures for occupational violence the authors apply the hierarchy of control but mistakenly consider personal duress alarms as an engineering control.  These are administrative controls, at best, as they are similar to CCTV – doing little in reducing the harm and relying on the presence of others for harm minimisation.  They rightly position leadership as an administrative control and therefore a lower order of risk control.  What is not discussed is whether the hierarchy of controls can adequately be applied to psychosocial hazards.  Some of the clunky controls discussed in this chapter would suggest a new hierarchy of controls should be developed.

Lastly on this chapter, the authors note that occupational violence and bullying is

“…a rapidly growing reported behaviour and risk to the health and productivity of people.” (page 486)

This is a curious statement.  There is increased reporting of bullying but this is not the same as an increase in the reality. Various OHS regulators have reported that only a minority of bullying reports have warranted any action.  Even if the bullying report is not validated, the reporting reflects a workplace and organisational cultural problem and a discussion of this should have been included in this chapter.

Stress Chapter

Curiously, the bullying chapter fails to cross-reference or link to the chapter by Chris Petersen on Stress, although bullying and occupational violence can both occur in relation to stress.  This disjointedness often seems to occur in multi-author publications where editors are less likely to understand the thematic bridges of topics and chapters.  Peterson’s chapter is also a good introduction to the topic but places too much emphasis on the issues of compensation rather than control.  Several of his key points are worth noting as is some of his conclusion.

  • “…Studies on stress have shown that employees with insufficient control over their jobs are at greatest risk of stress and other harmful outcomes.
  • When employees become insecure they can develop prolonged stress and poor physical and mental health.
  • Risk assessing and managing stress is not straightforward.  British approaches and tools are referred to as they provide a comprehensive national guide to risk managing stress.  Their approaches are highly applicable to Australia….” (page 622)

“It is entirely in the best interests of management to identify potential causes of stress and the likelihood of employees being affected.  Bringing about changes to jobs that are stressful is critical in reducing stress in the workplace – replacing stressed employees is costly and compounds the problem and costs…..” (page 637)

The assumption in the last quote is that employers see employees as an investment instead of a churning labour force.

Oddly, in a very broad bibliography to this chapter, Chris Peterson fails to mention his own 1999 book Stress At Work – A Sociological Perspective.  Given the increasing prominence in OHS of the sociological perspectives, it is an odd omission of an excellent book, although Peterson does reference a 2003 book on stress that he edited.

Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide is intended to be all things to all readers, that it might by all means interest some.  The number of templates is aimed at the student and is more fitting for CCH’s range of  Hands On Guides.  There is an entire section devoted to “student advice” and provides an extensive “sample security risk assessment” which is next to useless in a book format.  This assessment should have been a download from the CCH website for purchasers of the book.

Given the prominence of the authors in the front “high school yearbook” section it is hard to understand why the chapters that those authors wrote, or contributed to, are not listed alongside.  One has to flip through the pages to find the chapters of Chris Winder and Richard Johnstone, two authors mentioned specifically in the Preface.

Supplementary  and Online Information

The book has some terrific content but ultimately it is a book that does not know whether  it should be online or in hard copy.  The photos and graphics deserve to be in colour (an easy online achievement) as monochrome muddies the images almost to pointlessness.  If templates are to be offered, these must be in a useable format and, nowadays, that is downloadable.  (CCH used to provide CDs of Powerpoint templates, assessment forms and sample policies).  The editor describes the book as a “practical guide”.  Perhaps, but the information would be more applicable if some of it was available online. If some of the best and most prominent OHS academics are to be included in the book, give them the prominence they deserve. (Hint: you may also sell more books)

The book is also the first multi-topic OHS book to appear after the release of the free OHS Body of Knowledge (BoK) “auspiced” by the Safety Institute of Australia.  Many BoK chapters hold their own against similar topics in CCH’s Guide.  Should the BoK not be updated, as the SIA Plans to do, CCH will regain ground in the knowledge stakes but at the moment, some BoK chapters stand up well.

CCH has produced a pretty good Work Health and Safety Guide but it is no “Master” and, regardless of what the editor, Freehill’s Cormack Dunn, says in his Preface, the book is not “invaluable”.  Buy some of the cheaper, more focussed, WHS/OHS publications, supplemented by free online content, and wait for the libraries to purchase this book.

Kevin Jones

Note:  Kevin Jones has written for several CCH Publications.

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